CAÑON CITY, Colo. - What if you could qualify to get a top-of-the-line computer, High-Definition monitor, and on-demand movies, no questions asked?
You might think it was a scam.
All of us have to pay good money for that, right? In this case, only criminals need apply.
All of the 948 cells at the Centennial Correctional Facility are outfitted with these high-tech kiosks: a computer encased in a metal box, complete with a 20-inch monitor, built-in camera, 2.8 GHz processor, and headset. Oh, and there are 22 cable stations available, too.
The final kiosks were just installed last month, ringing in at $2.5 million.
The Centennial facility is the first in the country with this kind of technology.
But before you start griping about where your tax dollars are going, you need to know that everything was paid for by the inmates.
"We paid for it fully with cash funds. So there's no burden to the state taxpayers or the general fund,? according to Alison Morgan, Assistant Director of Finance and Administration with the Colorado Department of Corrections.
The $2.5 million comes from the inmates? "canteen fund? ? money collected from prisoners? purchases of candy bars, hygiene products, and over-the-counter medicines.
So exactly how are inmates earning money, and how are candy bars buying 948 computers?
Factor in Colorado?s 22,500 inmates, each buying an average $2 of products a day, and you get $3-4 million of canteen cash a year. Those canteen funds, by law, can only be used to benefit inmates ? not build new prisons ? or even keep ones open like Ft. Lyons.
Then why only here?
The men at the Centennial facility are considered the worst of the worst ? not necessarily because of the crimes they've committed, but how they've acted behind bars. They've assaulted staff, other inmates, and started riots. And that's why they're in solitary confinement nearly 23 hours a day.
But it begs the question: are these computers, simply a reward for bad behavior?
DOC is quick to defend how the funds were allocated.
?This is an environment that most offenders do not want to be in. It is very restrictive, it has limited privileges,? says Morgan.
In fact, corrections officers listen in on inmates? Skype-type conversations with family and friends. Access to the video chat is based upon the inmate?s behavior, and at a maximum, can only work up to one hour and a half conversation, once a week.
That goes for what cable stations can be accessed, too. Inmates cannot access the internet on the computers ? they are linked into an intranet system.
Plans are in the works to expand the program to other state prisons.