Anyone who's paid a grocery bill in the past few months knows that higher energy costs have driven the price of almost every other commodity steadily upward. (It doesn't count if your manservant paid that bill, by the way.) But the price hikes have been particularly irksome in the Colorado Department of Corrections, where certain basic hygiene items — toothpaste, deodorant, head waxing supplies — tend to cost more than they do on the street, thanks to the monopoly market established by the prison canteen.
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Lately the folks at Colorado CURE, a group that advocates for rehabilitation and prisoner rights, have been getting a lot of letters from state inmates bitching about canteen prices and their effect on good grooming. A typical lament, from a prisoner at Limon: "How come DOC canteen prices keep going up, but inmate pay is still the same -- sixty cents a day for a 23-day maximum? Limon is only giving out one roll of toilet paper a week per inmate. To buy a roll is fifty cents. What can be done about these issues?"
Not much, probably. In an era in which depraved investment bankers take home hundred-million-dollar bonuses as a reward for wrecking Wall Street, the wages of the little guy -- and the number of cottony soft squares allotted for his personal comfort -- keep shrinking. And that's an issue the presidential candidates ought to, er, get behind. One roll a week might be enough for the typical civilian, but we're talking guys who consume prison chow: turkey roll surprise, meatloaf extender a la king, fishstick fiesta and worse. Where's the compassionate conservatives when you need them? -- Alan Prendergast