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Glitch sent racy TV into Moose Lake prison cells

A glitch that allowed inmates at the Moose Lake Correctional Center to view sexually explicit TV shows has been corrected, a Minnesota Department of Corrections spokeswoman said.

A glitch that allowed inmates at the Moose Lake Correctional Center to view sexually explicit TV shows has been corrected, a Minnesota Department of Corrections spokeswoman said.

But a prison employee said it took much too long to get the offensive channels removed.

"We noticed it about two months ago," said Rodney Ocepek, who has worked at the prison for 12 years. "We noticed that the inmates were watching it."

Although the channels, which Ocepek labeled pornography, appeared to have been removed by last week, they were available to the inmates for about two months, he said.

Mediacom's regional representative said the company had been offering free access to premium channels such as HBO and Showtime in a promotional effort. After a call from the Department of Corrections on May 12, Mediacom blocked the digital signal to prevent inmates from watching those channels even during promotions, Burt said.

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Phyllis Peters, a spokeswoman for Mediacom, said the company took action immediately when it became aware of the problem. Mediacom also is pursuing longer-term solutions to make sure it doesn't happen in the future.

Shari Burt, communications director for the Department of Corrections, said prison officials first became aware of the explicit content on premium channels on May 10, and the content was blocked by May 12.

A staff member filed a similar complaint in April, Burt said, but the employee didn't identify specific channels. And when prison officials checked the TVs, they were unable to find offensive material. They also contacted Mediacom, the cable company that provides TV service to the prison, and the local representative said no premium channels should have been coming into the prison.

Ocepek said staff members filed incident reports on offensive programming on April 5, April 6, May 8 and May 10.

Burt said she wasn't disputing the complaint, and said "I have no reason to doubt what a correctional officer would say."

But prison officials reacted appropriately, she said. "I'm not sure what more they could have done with that first report."

Even without the premium channels, the inmates have a wealth of TV options. The prison gets Mediacom's "basic" package, which consists of 56 channels. They include Spike TV, MTV, ESPN and the Home Shopping Network.

The prison can't get TV reception without cable, Burt said, and 56 channels is the most bare-bones package Mediacom offers.

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Moreover, tax money doesn't pay for cable TV in the prison; it's paid for with the revenue from inmate phone calls. Televisions are in day rooms and in some cells; inmates can purchase specially designed TVs from the canteen. The TVs are encased in plastic to prevent their use as storage places for contraband.

Ocepek said most inmates have TVs.

The prison is separate from its next-door neighbor, the Minnesota Sex Offender Program at Moose Lake, which is operated by the Department of Human Services. However, Burt said the prison does have a 50-bed treatment wing for sex offenders, and inmates in that section who have TVs would be able to view the same channels as in the rest of the prison.

Ocepek said prison officials acted too slowly. "If we (employees) had been watching it, it would have gotten pulled a lot sooner than that."

Although she acknowledged the glitch, Burt said the Department of Corrections has prohibited nudity in magazines, movies and TV programming since the 1980s.

"We would agree that it's not appropriate," she said. "I think we tried very hard to keep it out."

Related Topics: CRIMEMOOSE LAKE
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