Corrections 'ripping off' prisoners with expensive rental TVs

Prisoners who spend their leisure time watching television are proving to be a money-spinner for the Government.

Corrections is making nearly half a million dollars a year renting TVs to inmates - and one recently released prisoner says it's a rip-off.

"Prisoners have got nothing but TV to keep them entertained," Arthur Taylor told Newshub. "It's their entertainment, it's their source of news and information."

But they don't come for free. It cost $2 a week for prisoners to rent a television off Corrections. They can watch channels TVNZ1, TVNZ2, Three, Prime, Māori TV and a couple of radio stations.

So many TVs were rented last year that Corrections collected nearly $500,000.

Taylor says the scheme's just not fair.

"Two dollars a week is a lot out of a prisoner's wages. A lot of them are on less than $10 a week."

Prisoners who work in prisons receive an allowance of 20c to 60c an hour, so $2 a week for the TV could be 10 hours of work.

"For them, relatively, that's a lot to hire a television," said Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis.

But he also said inmates don't have to hire one.

"There's other things that cost nothing. You know, there's nothing like a good book."

Prisoners haven't always been charged for televisions - they could bring in their own from home before 2013.

The hired televisions are housed in a clear plastic frame to prevent contraband being hidden inside.

The amount made from the scheme is ramping up. In the first year, Corrections made $12,958 from the scheme while it was in the pilot phase.

The following year it went up to $382,753, and in 2017-2018 it was $455,266.

But Corrections says it doesn't turn a profit from the rentals.

Chief custodial officer Neil Beales said the scheme is important.

"If you're spending a long time in prison and spending time in your cells, boredom can sometimes drive people to do things we don't want them to do."

Some prisoners are spending up to a fifth of their income on watching telly.

But there's no appetite from the Minister to change the system - it's a healthy little earner that offsets costs and helps keep the peace in prison.