State Rep. Kirk Pearson, a Republican from Monroe, is outraged that taxpayer dollars are "subsidizing prisoners who are getting candy and cigarettes at the [prison] commissary," so he's introducing new legislation that will put a stop to it. But according to the people who actually run the prisons, "indigent offenders" are only allowed to buy necessities like over-the-counter medicine and hygiene supplies. The dirty scoundrels!
No public funds may be used to provide remuneration for any purchase of personal goods at a store located within a correctional facility for or on behalf of any inmate who is a resident at the facility whether such payment is a subsidy, direct payment, extension of credit, or some other form of consideration for the purchase of personal goods.Pearson tells the Everett Herald that the bill is necessary because "subsidies" at prison commissaries (basically behind-bars versions of Bartell's) are costing the state "hundreds of thousands of dollars" each year.
This is true. Last year, taxpayers footed the bill for $443,000 in purchases inside the prison. The year before that, it was roughly $214,000.
What's bunk is Pearson's belief that those purchases consist of "candy and cigarettes." As corrections secretary Eldon Vail points out to the Herald, inmates paying with someone else's dime can only buy items from an approved list. These extravagances include soap, toothpaste, denture adhesive, razors, shampoo, reading glasses, aspirin, Claritin, and Pepto-Bismol.
Poor prisoners also have restrictions on how often they can replenish their supplies. For instance, they are allowed a new toothbrush every 60 days and new toothpaste once a month.
Some inmates have family members who send them cash and others earn money at jobs in the laundry room or elsewhere in the penitentiary. But many are flat broke because they have to pay court-ordered fines, child support, and legal fees.
The cost-cutting measure comes as the Washington DOC faces a $48 million budget shortfall. Since commissary purchases have only cost $2.9 million total over the past five years, perhaps the state ought to stop providing criminals with clothing, medical treatment, and food to make up the rest of the difference.