Prison is meant to be a punishment for crimes, as well as a rehabilitation from a crime-ridden life. While prisoners' basic needs should be met, they should have little or no access to recreation, unless that recreation helps them to keep physically fit. If Internet access can help an inmate improve his or her future career chances, it should be allowed, but not as a form of entertainment.
Prisoners should not have access to things that those that follow the law may not be able to afford. By allowing use of the Internet and cable TV, prisons are sending the message that the facilities are simply hotel rooms with stricter security. These perks do little to actually penalize the criminal for his or her crime.
At best, in a penal institution, an inmate has access to very basic cable. This usually is a selection of only a handful of television stations. In addition, Internet access is highly restricted to use in an educational or job training setting and limited email exchanges with friends and family that is tightly monitored by institutional staff.
Certain diversions in prison are provided to inmates in order to maintain order. Without some distraction, prisoners may become bored and instigate trouble. The perks provided to prisoners in prisons, therefore, are intended more to ease the lives of guards and alleviate pressure on them than they are to please prisoners.