Why Do Inmates Need Money in Jail?
Why Do Inmates Need Money in Jail?

Why Do Inmates Need Money in Jail?

When a person is incarcerated, their whole world changes. Suddenly, they are cut off from the outside world and have limited access to the things they need to survive. One of the biggest challenges that inmates face is money. In this article, we will explore why inmates need money and how it can make a difference in their lives.

Understanding the Inmate Economy

In many ways, the prison system is like a microcosm of society. Just as in the outside world, there is an economy that exists within prison walls. However, this economy operates very differently from the one outside. Money is scarce, and inmates have to find creative ways to make ends meet.

The Cost of Incarceration

Incarceration is expensive. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, the average cost of housing an inmate is $31,286 per year. This cost is typically borne by taxpayers, but inmates are also required to contribute to their own care. This can include paying for medical expenses, hygiene products, and other necessities.

Limited Access to Resources

Inmates have limited access to resources such as food, clothing, and toiletries. While these items are provided by the prison, they are often of low quality and in short supply. Inmates who want better quality or more variety have to purchase them from the commissary.

Job Opportunities

Inmates who are able to work can earn a small amount of money. However, these jobs are limited and pay very little. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, most inmates earn between $0.12 and $0.40 per hour. This means that even if an inmate works full time, they are unlikely to earn enough to support themselves.

How Inmates Use Money

Money can make a big difference in the lives of inmates. It can be used to purchase better quality food and hygiene products, as well as to stay in touch with loved ones. Here are some of the ways that inmates use money:

Communication with Loved Ones

Incarceration can be an isolating experience, with limited opportunities for meaningful interaction with the outside world. Inmates require money to make phone calls, send letters, or use email services, allowing them to stay connected with their loved ones. These forms of communication are essential for maintaining relationships and receiving emotional support during their time behind bars.

Accessing Entertainment and Educational Materials

In order to alleviate boredom and engage in personal development, inmates often need financial means to access entertainment and educational materials. These may include books, magazines, newspapers, puzzles, or even educational courses and programs offered within correctional facilities. Such resources can provide intellectual stimulation and contribute to an inmate’s rehabilitation journey.

Purchasing Personal Clothing and Supplies

Inmates may need money to purchase personal clothing items and supplies that go beyond the basic uniforms provided by the correctional facility. These items may include underwear, socks, shoes, and stationery supplies for writing letters or pursuing educational endeavors.

Commissary Purchases

Inmates can use money to purchase a variety of items from the commissary, including food, hygiene products, and clothing. These items are often of better quality than what is provided by the prison.

Legal Fees

Inmates who are trying to appeal their sentence or fight their case may need to hire a lawyer. Legal fees can be very expensive, and inmates may need to rely on friends and family to help them pay for them.


Inmates need money for many of the same reasons that people in the outside world do. They need it to purchase the things they need to survive, to stay in touch with loved ones, and to pay for legal fees. While the prison economy operates differently from the one outside, money can still make a big difference in the lives of inmates.


Can inmates receive money from outside sources?

Yes, inmates can receive money from outside sources, such as friends and family. However, there are often limits on how much they can receive, and the money may be subject to fees.

Do inmates have access to banks?

No, inmates do not have access to traditional banks.

Can inmates earn money by working?

Yes, inmates can earn a small amount of money by working. However, these jobs are limited and pay very little.

What happens if an inmate doesn’t have any money?

If an inmate doesn’t have any money, they may have to rely on the prison to provide them with basic necessities such as food, clothing, and hygiene products. These items are often of low quality and in short supply.

Can inmates use money to purchase anything they want?

No, there are limits on what inmates can purchase with their money. Certain items, such as drugs and weapons, are strictly prohibited.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *