What Do Inmates Do in Prison?
What Do Inmates Do in Prison?

What Do Inmates Do in Prison? – Daily Routine

When it comes to prisons, there is a lot of mystery surrounding what inmates do behind bars. While it’s easy to imagine a life of idle boredom, the reality is that inmates are often quite busy, and prisons offer a wide range of activities, programs, and employment opportunities. In this article, we’ll explore what inmates do in prison, and how these activities can help them prepare for a successful reentry into society.

Adapting to the Routine: Daily Life in Prison

When individuals are sentenced to prison, they become part of a structured environment with a set routine. Adapting to this routine is essential for inmates to maintain order and structure in their lives. Here is a glimpse into their daily activities:

1. Morning Routine: A New Dawn

As the morning light breaks over the prison walls, inmates rise to begin their day. They follow a strict morning routine that includes personal hygiene, making their beds, and preparing for the day ahead. These activities help instill discipline and a sense of responsibility.

2. Educational Programs: Expanding Horizons

Prisons provide various educational opportunities to inmates. Many correctional facilities offer literacy programs, GED courses, vocational training, and college classes. Engaging in these programs empowers inmates with knowledge and equips them with valuable skills for a brighter future upon release.

3. Work Assignments: Productivity Behind Bars

Inmates often have work assignments within the prison walls. These can range from janitorial duties and food service to manufacturing and maintenance tasks. Working not only keeps inmates occupied but also allows them to contribute to the functioning of the correctional facility.

4. Counseling and Rehabilitation: Healing and Growth

Prisons recognize the importance of addressing inmates’ emotional and psychological well-being. Counseling sessions and rehabilitation programs are offered to support personal growth, self-reflection, and the development of coping mechanisms. These programs aim to reduce recidivism rates and facilitate successful reintegration into society.

5. Recreational Activities: Time for Rest and Play

Inmates also have designated time for recreational activities. They may engage in sports, fitness programs, arts and crafts, or leisure reading. These activities provide an outlet for creativity, physical exercise, and social interaction, helping inmates maintain a sense of normalcy and emotional well-being.

6. Visitation and Communication: Connections Beyond Bars

Maintaining connections with loved ones is crucial for inmates’ mental and emotional health. Prisons facilitate visitation and communication, allowing inmates to spend time with their families and friends. Phone calls, letters, and supervised visits play a significant role in preserving these vital connections.

Transitioning Back to Society: Rehabilitation and Reintegration

While inmates serve their sentences, rehabilitation and reintegration into society are key goals of the prison system. In addition to the aforementioned educational programs and counseling, other initiatives include:

  • Life skills training: Inmates learn practical skills such as budgeting, job interview techniques, and conflict resolution to enhance their chances of successful reentry into society.
  • Substance abuse programs: For those struggling with addiction, prisons offer substance abuse treatment programs to aid in recovery and minimize the risk of relapse.
  • Restorative justice: In some cases, inmates participate in restorative justice programs, where they engage in dialogue and actions that help repair the harm caused by their offenses.

Life in Prison

Before we dive into the specifics of what inmates do in prison, it’s important to understand what daily life is like behind bars. Prisons are highly regimented environments, and inmates have little autonomy over their day-to-day routines.


Inmates live in cells, which are often small and cramped, and share communal spaces like bathrooms and showers. Many prisons have strict rules around cell cleanliness and organization, and inmates must keep their spaces tidy and free of contraband.


Inmates typically eat in a communal cafeteria, where they are served three meals a day. Meals are often bland and unappetizing, and inmates have limited choices in what they can eat. However, many prisons have programs that allow inmates to purchase snacks and other treats from a commissary.

Health Care

Prisoners have access to basic health care, although the quality and availability of these services can vary widely. Many prisons have on-site medical facilities staffed by doctors and nurses, while others rely on outside providers to deliver care.

Work in Prison

Employment is a key part of life in prison, and many inmates are required to work as part of their sentence. In addition to providing structure and routine, work can also help inmates earn money, gain new skills, and prepare for life after their release.

Types of Jobs

Prison jobs can range from manual labor tasks, such as laundry or maintenance work, to more specialized jobs, such as tutoring or clerical work. Many prisons have vocational training programs that allow inmates to gain skills in trades like welding, carpentry, or automotive repair.


Inmates who work in prison are usually paid a small wage, which is typically far below minimum wage. However, these wages can be used to purchase items from the commissary or to send money to loved ones outside of prison.

Education in Prison

Education is another important part of life behind bars. Many prisons offer programs that allow inmates to earn their GEDs or take college courses. These programs can help inmates build new skills and knowledge, and also give them a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

GED Programs

GED programs allow inmates to earn a high school equivalency diploma, which can be used to qualify for employment, housing, and higher education opportunities after release. Many prisons offer GED classes and testing on-site, and some even provide incentives like early release for inmates who earn their diplomas.

College Courses

In addition to GED programs, some prisons offer college courses that allow inmates to earn associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. These programs are often run in partnership with local colleges or universities and are designed to give inmates the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a wide range of careers.

Counseling and Therapy

Mental health and substance abuse treatment are critical services for many inmates. Prisons often offer counseling and therapy programs that can help inmates address underlying issues and work towards recovery.

Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance abuse is a common problem among inmates, and many prisons offer treatment programs to help inmates address addiction and maintain sobriety. These programs may include individual counseling, group therapy, and medication-assisted treatment.

Mental Health Services

Prisons can be stressful and traumatic environments, and many inmates struggle with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or PTSD. Mental health services like counseling, therapy, and medication management can help inmates cope with these challenges and build resilience.

Recreation and Activities

In addition to work and education programs, prisons also offer a variety of recreational activities and events. These activities can help inmates build social connections, relieve stress, and develop new hobbies and interests.


Many prisons have sports teams or leagues that allow inmates to participate in activities like basketball, soccer, or softball. In addition to providing exercise and stress relief, these activities can also help inmates build teamwork and leadership skills.

Clubs and Groups

Prisons often have clubs or groups that cater to inmates’ interests, such as book clubs, writing groups, or chess clubs. These activities can help inmates develop new hobbies and interests and build social connections with other inmates.

Religious Services

Prisons also offer religious services and events for inmates who practice a particular faith. These services can provide inmates with a sense of community and support, and may also help them develop a deeper understanding of their faith.


Prison life is characterized by a structured routine aimed at instilling discipline and promoting personal growth. Inmates engage in various activities such as educational programs, work assignments, counseling, recreational pursuits, and maintaining connections with their loved ones. By focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration, prisons strive to prepare individuals for a successful transition back into society. Understanding these aspects of prison life fosters empathy and contributes to a more comprehensive view of the justice system.


Do all prisons offer the same programs and activities for inmates?

No, the availability of programs and activities can vary widely from prison to prison.

Do inmates have to participate in work or education programs?

In many cases, yes. Inmates are often required to work or participate in education programs as part of their sentence.

Can inmates earn degrees while in prison?

Yes, many prisons offer college courses that allow inmates to earn associate’s or bachelor’s degrees.

Are mental health and substance abuse treatment services available to all inmates?

Yes, all inmates have access to basic health care, including mental health and substance abuse treatment.

How can inmates use the skills and knowledge they gain in prison after their release?

Inmates can use these skills and knowledge to find employment, pursue higher education opportunities, and build successful lives outside of prison.

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