- The Washington Times - Monday, March 4, 2002

NORFOLK (AP) Little luxuries like cookies, radios, playing cards and even perm kits are just a phone call away for inmates in South Hampton Roads.
Inmates can place weekly orders to jailhouse canteens by dialing an eight-digit number and entering their personal identification numbers, what items they want and the quantities.
Jail officials and corrections analysts say having the comfort items available for sale encourages inmates to behave.
"To some people, all this may seem trivial and minor, but when you're locked up and you don't have a lot of privileges, they become more valuable," said Col. Claude A. Stafford of the Chesapeake sheriff's department. "So, they're easily used to have people go along with your rules and regulations."
The most expensive items for sale in local jails are the $35.52 Riddell men's shoes in the Norfolk jail. The cheapest? Two-cent sugar packets in Virginia Beach.
A Chesapeake inmate with $12.90 could treat four fellow inmates to punch, popcorn, peanuts, orange slices, cheese Ritz and brownies.
While some inmates complain they are gouged by the canteens or that the quality is low, others just compare them from jail to jail.
After doing time in both Chesapeake and Norfolk, Douglas Foreman knows the differences. For example, Norfolk places a $75 limit on canteen orders, while Chesapeake has a limit of $50.
"It's better over here than in Chesapeake," said Foreman, 46, who had been in the Norfolk jail on a federal drug conviction. "You get to order more."
Corrections analysts say officials need to be careful not to offer inmates too much.
"It has to be recognized as a reward and not a right," said Joseph L. Garcia, president and chief executive officer of Cert Holdings, a Norfolk-based corrections consultant. "It's like a giant. If you start giving a giant cookies, it's going to want milk."
Today's jails are a far cry from those in the early 1900s, when many Southern inmates were fed fatback, field peas and corn bread, according to prison accounts.
In Virginia, Department of Corrections policy requires jails to provide inmates with health and hygiene products. Nothing else is guaranteed.
Local inmates use some canteen items in day-to-day trading and gambling among themselves, jail officials say. State law mandates that all profits from canteens be used for such things as education and recreation to benefit inmates.
But efforts are under way to tighten the law further after Richmond Sheriff Michelle Mitchell was criticized for using canteen profits to buy more than $500 worth of photos of herself that were used in her re-election campaign, plus a hand-held organizer and membership in a business social club.
Lawmakers are considering a bill that would make it clear that canteen profits are public funds and therefore subject to audits and public review.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide