Prison authorities have spent tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on LCD televisions, claiming the high-tech devices are easier to keep away from destructive inmates than traditional sets.
And more than $4600 worth of PlayStation machines and videogames are lying unused in Prison Service cupboards after being withdrawn from use in late 2006.
The videogames - predominantly used by child criminals in residential facilities - were taken out of circulation after the Opposition raised concerns about the violent content of some games, and it was realised there was no national policy for their use in prisons.
The department could not confirm last night whether a policy had yet been formulated, or if the devices would be used again.
Prison Service bosses said yesterday the LCD televisions required fewer wall mountings, which meant their were fewer items available for inmates to use to harm the screens, other inmates or themselves.
Opposition law and order spokesman Simon Power yesterday blasted the department for spending almost $41,000 on the 32 LCD televisions.
The sets - at an average $1270 each - were delivered to prisons across the country during 2007, for the use of both inmates and staff.
Waikeria Prison at Te Awamutu received nine televisions - one for every 115 inmates. The recently-opened Otago Corrections Facility near Milton received 11 new televisions at a cost of $21,000.
Inmates at the facility - known as the "Milton Hilton" - share one new television between every 31 prisoners.
Mr Power yesterday claimed the purchases reinforced concerns that life in the prison system was creating a mentality of idleness.
Authorities should be concentrating on providing services to help ensure inmates do not return to prison once released, he said.
"Perhaps if Corrections spent more time getting prisoners into work or training or rehabilitation in preparation for release, they would be making greater inroads into the recidivism rate."
But Prison Services assistant general manager of operations Bryan McMurray said the LCD televisions cost less than traditional sets and the frames needed to mount them.
The fact the screens were of higher definition was not a factor in the purchase, he said.
Though there were no immediate plans to buy more LCD televisions, the department would consider them when it went shopping for new sets.
"If any existing sites require replacement televisions they will be considered on a case by case basis, taking into account whether security and other considerations make them the best value option."
Prison reformer Kim Workman yesterday defended the use of the sets, saying it was a matter of inmate safety.
It was not ideal for inmates to spend their time in front of TV, but staffing levels were such that there were not enough constructive activities for prisoners, he said. TV could reduce boredom.
BIG HOUSE, BIG SCREENS
* Otago Corrections Facility: 11 sets - $21,120
* Waikeria Prison: 9 sets - $5924
* Auckland Women's: 4 sets - $6756
* Rimutaka Prison: 3 sets - $3564
* Wanganui Prison: 2 sets - $1292
* Hawkes Bay: 2 sets - $1236
* Invercargill: 1 set - $799