Bill would remove televisions from death row

Posted May 16, 2012
Updated May 17, 2012

The House Rules committee voted to introduce a bill that would remove televisions from death row.

According to Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, the bill was introduced at the request of the Gaston County district attorney.

In January, death row inmate Danny Robbie Hembree Jr. wrote a letter to his hometown paper in Gaston County mocking the state's ineffective death penalty.

Hembree claimed he lived a life of leisure, complete with color television.

"Kill me if you can, suckers," he wrote.

Moore's bill would order the Division of Adult Correction to remove televisions from death row.

"One thing he (Hembree) crowed about in his letter was he was able to spend his days watching color TV," Moore said. 

Moore said some legislators had recently visited death row and that it was not a life of luxury.

"But there are people out here living in society that are trying to get by that don't have TV," Moore said. Providing it to prisoners accused of the most heinous crimes seemed wrong.

"Why limit it to death row?" asked Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, suggesting televisions should be removed from the entire prison system.

Moore answered that, for other prisoners, television privileges might be an incentive to behave better. 

The idea sparked a few moments of levity in the room. Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, suggested forcing death row inmates to watch the children's program "Sesame Street" as punishment.

"Fox News," quipped Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange, in response to Stam. Hackney was quickly answered by Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir, who said, "They might hear the truth for the first time in their lives."

Not to be outdone, Blust got in the last joke of the day. 

"Why don't we really punish them and televise the General Assembly," Blust said. 

The committee approved the bill's introduction, so it will be eligible to be heard this year. 

Update: The Division of Adult Correction, which runs the prisons, has concerns about taking the televisions off death row.

"It's a management tool," said Pam Walker, a spokeswoman for the prison system. Death row inmates are not allowed to mix with other prisoners, so they cannot participate in work and education programs.

Television helps occupy the prisoners and gives them an incentive to obey the rules. There is one television per common room in the death row area.

"We're certainly concerned and would like the opportunity to provide some input," Walker said. 

Prisoners must purchase headphones from the canteen in order to listen to the television. And, Walker said, canteen sales – mostly for basic hygiene items – fund whatever cable service the prison might get.

"It occupies their minds," Walker said. "Otherwise, they'll be looking for other things to do and potentially create issues." 

Also, there is no channel surfing for the inmates. The television channel is controlled by a corrections officer. 


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  • greg69innc May 20, 2012

    Here is a news flash lock them up and keep them in their cell they can be whatever they want to be since they cant come out they can eat in their cells, sleep in their cells and if their family care about them they can send them a book to read and that is it. The families of inmates used to help care for them so lets get back to that. 3 hots and a cots is all they should get.

  • jjnash88 May 17, 2012

    I am absolutely astonished at many of these comments. Apparently for some killing a person isn't enough punishment. We "hardworking" folks are definitely worse off than someone locked up and sentenced to death. Please legislature deal with something important!

  • postracker May 17, 2012

    As a former guard, I would much rather have the inmat...ummmmm.."Guests of the State" spend hours watching Oprah and Jerry Springer and Dora the Explorer as opposed to having to think up ways to pass the time. A bored guest can be a dangerous guest.

  • FlySwater May 17, 2012

    This piece of legislation represents a popular sentiment amongst the folks. I wonder why its mention is by WRAL is buried in a blog...........

  • tarheelgrad1998 May 17, 2012

    Finally. Let's make our prisons punishment and not a resort.

  • wildpig777 May 17, 2012

    i demand out legistslators pass a law REQUIRING public hanging

  • rcrdngcountry May 17, 2012

    there should be no tv,s in prison, anywhere. the ones on death
    row should be excuted. shape up the justice systhem, and stop
    our state from being made fun of by its own prinsoners. they
    need to pay for their crimes.

  • RethinkThat May 17, 2012

    They don't have TV in their cells, it's in the common area. And as the article states, TV is used as an incentive much the same way you might use it with your child.

    When there's nothing else to do, these inmates will spend all day long thinking/planning. But I guarantee they are not thinking about what they did wrong and how sorry they are for it. If you're upset by what Hembree wrote, deal with that, but don't put prison staff at greater risk because one inmate wrote a letter that made you mad.

  • sojowells May 16, 2012

    If everyone knew what it costs us to"keep up" the prisoners, they would be appalled. They get free dental, free doctor, free transportation, someone has to take them AND stay with them the whole entire time they are at the Dr. Someone is getting paid to chauffeur them around to their court hearings, which can be in another county that is several hours away and THEN they have to wait for the court session to be over and THEN drive them home. We as tax payers are paying for this. We can't afford gas for our own vehicles, but they get it all for FREE. Many citizens cannot afford heath care....well, just commit a crime.....you will be set for life.

  • joeblink May 16, 2012

    I am much more concerned about all the weightlifting equipment provided to violent offenders who will one day be released, having built up their physical strength to allow them to terrorize innocent people even more than when they went in. No problem with offenders getting excercise to stay healthy, (i.e., plenty of walking, physical work, etc.) but pumping iron for a 'macho' physique should not be an option at all.