The big switch to digital TV has prison officials scrambling to keep one of the most important peacekeeping tools in prisons across the nation: broadcast television. When the nation’s broadcasters make the switch from analog to digital signals Feb. 17, televisions that are not hooked up to cable, satellite or a converter box will be reduced to static. While TV might seem like an undeserved luxury for inmates, prison officials and inmates say the tube does more than fill year after year of idle hours – it provides a sense of normalcy and is a bargaining chip that encourages good behavior, reports the Associated Press.
The TV industry has spent months preparing consumers for the switch, running ads and offering government-funded coupons that can be redeemed for the converter boxes needed to display the digital signal on older TVs. But officials worry that prisoners may be left to stare at blank screens because they don’t qualify for the $40 coupons. “They won’t give us the switches, we called them,” said South Carolina Corrections Department Director Jon Ozmint. “We asked them for the coupons and they said they’re only available for households. I said, ‘We’re the big house.’ But they didn’t buy it.” Ozmint said state money won’t be used to buy the undetermined number of converters South Carolina needs to keep its TVs running. Officials in many states haven’t figured out how many converter boxes will be needed – and what the exact cost will be.