Texas, you see, is the only death penalty state that does not allow its death row residents to either purchase small TVs or to have any access whatsoever to television.
Some people are trying to change this silly policy. The Texas American Civil Liberties Union has asked the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to reconsider:
"We believe it is significant that every other death row in the country has successfully developed and implemented policies and practices that allow death row prisoners access to television, while at the same time maintaining the safety and security of their employees and institutions," the ACLU wrote to Christina Melton Crain, chair of TDCJ's board.
Crain's response was, shall we say, snippy. Or maybe "rude" would be a more apt description:
"I appreciate the passion and energy that you bring to matters for which you advocate," Crain wrote back to Yolanda Torres, who is with the ACLU. "But as the Board and the current Administration do not wish to entertain this issue further, dialogue between you and me on this subject is now closed."
Whew. So much for an open mind.
But the fact of the matter is that there are two very sound public policy reasons why TDCJ should reconsider this issue. First, there's the humanitarian issue. People on death row in Texas and elsewhere (but particularly in Texas) are becoming increasingly mentally ill because of the conditions. You're in constant lockdown, you have no human contact -- ever -- you have little in the way of media to divert you. Being able to at least catch the news or a football game or a sitcom on TV is a way to connect with the outside world, a conduit for you to maintain some degree of sanity.
Second, and more pragmatically, TV is a good management tool for guards and prison officials. Chase Riveland is the former director of the state prison systems in Washington and Colorado. He told the Houston Chronicle that TV can be used to encourage good behavior among those on death row:
"In most jurisdictions, in order to have a television, an inmate has to have a good disciplinary record," said Riveland, who has 36 years of correctional experience. "If the inmates know they're going to lose their television if they misbehave, they're going to be very cautious about it, especially if they're in a lockdown situation (as in Texas), because that's their only real connection with the real world."
Riveland added that, in most other states, inmates' families pay for the TV sets.
"I can't even fathom why one wouldn't want to use such an inexpensive tool," he said.