You Will Be Surprised How Much These Items Cost In Prison – In January 2018 a group of activists stood outside the Florida Department of Corrections in Tallahassee demanding to know why certain items in prison had a marked-up price. The protesters shouted at prison staff asking why tampons cost $18. One in mate from that prison got a message outside which was posted on a website and that read, “One case of soup on the street cost $4.
It costs us $17 on the inside. This is highway robbery without a gun. ”The prison denied such high prices, but there is evidence of some things costing a lot more in prison than on the outside in parts of the USA. The cost of Ramen noodles for instance, well, that’s a sore point for a lot of inmates in that particular prison in Florida.
But what do things really cost in prison? Obviously the costs differ from prison to prison and country to country, so what we will do is try our best to find out the prices in various places. We took a look at a report published by the Prison Policy Initiative, a report focused on taking a deeper look at commissaries inside prisons.
It wrote that simple things like sending emails and making phone calls can be very expensive,sometimes calling the charges outrageous. It also said getting the data on what is charged in prison isn’t easy at all, but it did manage to find information on prison sales in state prisons in Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington.
We should also point out that there are both state-operated commissary systems and also private commissary contractors. In a breakdown of what prisoners buy, you won’t be surprised that most of the cash went on prison food. Speak to most prisoners or watch documentaries on prisons and you’ll find that a lot of incarcerated people are not keen on what is served in the prison canteen and thereforeopt to buy their own food from the commissary.
After food, other big expenditures were on beverages, ingredients for food, condiments,clothing, hygiene, electronics and mail. But were the prices way too high? Well, it seems some prices were actually lower on the inside but some things were higher. We might look at shampoo sold at the Illinois prison, which would set a prisoner back $1.25.
Outside you could find the same bottle for 99 cents. You also have to bear in mind that to a prisoner this might still seem a lot on his or her very meager prison wages. In Massachusetts you could get the same bottle inside for $1.38, but out in the street that same bottle would cost $1.29, so again, a small mark up but not too much.
But in Washington in the prison store that bottle would cost $1.71, although no size was specified so it could have been a bigger bottle. Outside, that bottle- if the same size- could be found at just $1.19. The same report, though, stated that razors were cheaper in prison in all three states than in high street stores.
Ramen in those prisons was also pretty cheap compared to the outside world, which is a very different story to what those prisoners in Florida told about the price of ramen noodles. It really depends on the prison, because we found an article in The New Yorker which cited evidence that in a Mississippi prison some items were five times more expensive than on the outside.
The article it cited said, “For instance, a 20-ounce box of store-brand Cinnamon Toast Crunch costs $1. 67 at a discount store. Inside Mississippi prisons, the cost is nearly five times higher — $4. 80 for a box with 8 fewer ounces. ”It also said a copy of the Quran at that place had cost $58. 95 but had been lowered to $26, when you could buy one on Amazon with shipping included for $13.
We went to a forum where a prisoner who said she had had an extended stay at the Central California Women’s Facility talked about what she paid for things in the prison store. Like the report, she said some things were more expensive than on the outside and somethings were cheaper. As an example she wrote, “A ramen noodle is 25 cents, and a single soda is 55, while a bottle of water is 75.
”The tone of her message suggested that while prices there were on par with the outside world, she thought prisoners should get a better deal seeing as they are paid an incredibly low wage, often less than a dollar an hour. If they don’t have friends or family sending money in, they are in for a hard time.
Another prisoner, this time a male and who stayed at a prison in Michigan said he thought the prices of things in prison were a bit cheaper than on the outside. He wrote that Irish Spring Soap, 5.2 oz, was $1. 45. If you go online, that doesn’t look like a bad price at all. Then again, on the same forum there are former prisoners saying the prices were greatly inflated.
Hmm, so what’s the truth? Remember we are talking about regular items here, not things like phones that have entered the prison illegally. Everyone knows prisoners have to pay a small fortune for these- a recent article in the British media said that the most basic cellphone one can buy that costs about $30 on the outside can go for around $700 in prison.
That’s a lot, but it’s not easy to get one inside of course. So what if prisoners want to stay in touch the legal way and send an email? Well, in 2018 Mother Jones wrote that prisoners in the USA, some of them at least, were being offered special tablets for $140. Prior to this, though, they could stay in touch by receiving a printout of an email from someone on the outside.
To send a message back would cost the prisoner 40 cents. That was in the in early 2000s. With their new tablets they could send messages, but not connect to the internet to search for things and visit websites. They could also access some games and music. Sounds great. But if the prisoner wanted to send an email to someone that would cost them 30 cents per communication.
In some places emails cost even more, and while services are available in some prisons for music and video, the costs can be astronomical. Mother Jones writes that inmates can pay $7. 99 for just 48-hour movie rentals, or a whopping $24.99 for a monthly music subscription. This is way more than on the outside, but they don’t have anything else on offer.
Technology inside prison, states the article, is where prisoners are really being hit with hefty fees. As for phone calls, the Federal Communications Commission not too long ago put a cap on how much prisoners could be charged for making out of state calls. In 2019, Prison Policy wrote that this is all well and good, but most people in jail make in-state calls.
It wrote, “Instead of paying 21 cents or less per minute, as they would for out-of-state calls, people in jail calling loved ones in-state often still pay $1 per minute or more. ”That makes for an expensive chat. You can also find articles in the UK which state that prisoners there pay way too much for their phone calls, although not close to one dollar a minute.
It seems jails are the problem here, not prisons, with Mother Jones writing in 2019, “It costs about 50 times more to make a call from an Illinois Jail than from an Illinois State Prison. ”It wrote that from one jail in Michigan a 15-minute call might cost $22, but from a prison the same call time-wise would cost just $2.50.
The reason for the expense is different vendor contracts with the institutions. Then you have care packages. You can find online articles about these special care packages that families can send prisoners,because you can’t just take anything into some prisons. The goods are contraband proof and are bought from a contractor.
It’s often either buy from one of these vendors or don’t send anything at all. And it’s not just food, either, you can send in things such as bibles or a pair of socks. But families have complained about the prices, and then you have a processing fee, handling fee, and the prices from prison to prison can be very different.
One report states, “At Franklin County Jail in Pennsylvania, for example, a radio from Access Securepak costs $22, but in Custer County, Nebraska, the program sells that same radio for just under $13. At Arrendale State Prison in Georgia, a wire-free bra from Union Supply Direct is $13.80; at Northeast Correctional Complex in Tennessee, the company sells the same bra for $25.95.
”Again, it’s all about what contracts have been secured, so some people lose out just because of where they were sentenced to serve their time. This is just in America. You could go over to Thailand and find a very interesting story. In some Thai jails the prison food is so bad you won’t last long eating it, or at least fall prey to ill-health.
One foreign man imprisoned there who was wrongly convicted and imprisoned for many years learned how to speak Thai in prison and then studied Thai law. After that, he sued one prison for selling the most expensive bananas in Thailand. Once he knew the law he started suing prisons for all manner of things that were illegal.
When the man got out, he had over 200 cases on the corrupt cops that sent him down and others that had done him wrong in the justice and corrections system and he became a kind of celebrity. The Guardian writes that something similar was going on in Saudi Arabia, with expat prisoners complaining about massive mark-ups inside prison.
That might be for phone calls, a pack of cigarettes, soap, shampoo, or even razors. What might happen is an inmate or inmate gang get a deal going with the guards and then start a store, and you might call this the equivalent of the commissary, but with extremely high prices. While activists rightly complain about conditions in American prisons, in some prisons around the world people have no choice but to buy these marked up items or else their health will fail.
In some prisons you even have to pay for clean drinking water, which should of course be free for everyone. It seems in most developed nations the big problem is the cost of phone calls and also the cost of new tech inside prisons, and as we said, those special care packages have also been a point of contention for a lot of people with family and friends inside U.S. prisons.
Do you think things should be much cheaper inside prison? What do you think about the charges for phone calls? Emails? Tell us in the comments.