How Do Inmates Buy Things in Jail, Prison? - FindLaw Blotter
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How Do Inmates Buy Things in Jail, Prison?

How do inmates buy things in jail or prison? Being incarcerated doesn't mean that you stop being a consumer, and almost every penal institution has a commissary system to allow inmates to buy goods.

Whether you're in jail or prison -- and yes there is a difference -- an inmate with some outside funding can purchase food, clothing, and even hobby supplies.

But getting credit to buy things isn't always so easy.

Getting Commissary Funds

Depending on which incarceration facility you call home, it may be more or less difficult to get money on your "books." One of the lessons taught by the Netflix dramedy "Orange Is the New Black" is that getting money into an inmate's commissary account can often be a major hassle.

Prior to the advent of the Internet, family members and friends of inmates would need to either personally deliver or mail cash, checks, or certified money orders to a corrections department location for processing.

But in the digital age, many commissary systems have transitioned to online deposit models. Using systems like Texas' eComm Direct, family members can deposit a limited amount in an inmate's commissary account or directly purchase certain items for the inmate to pick up.

Other third-party services like OffenderConnect and Access Corrections handle a variety of state and federal correctional facilities and may provide a convenient way for loved ones to add to an inmate's usable funds.

What Items Can Inmates Purchase?

Every jail and prison is different, although most of them provide a schedule of commissary prices online. In most of these facilities, inmates can expect to purchase:

  • Snacks (candy, chips, cookies, etc.);
  • Canned meat, veggies, and soup;
  • Soft drinks;
  • Condiments;
  • Batteries and alarm clocks;
  • Over-the-counter medicine (allergy remedies, antacid, itch creams, etc.);
  • Bath and shower sundries;
  • Stationary and writing implements; and
  • Shower shoes/sandals.

Depending on your location, you may even be able to purchase MP3 players or electronics. The Mississippi Department of Corrections even lists a 13-inch LCD TV for $221.

Alcohol is not sold in any commissary, but according to The New York Times, some county jails are increasingly allowing e-cigarettes to be sold to inmates.

Commissary use by inmates is a privilege and not a guaranteed right. Misconduct or violation of a jail or prison regulation can have an inmate temporarily or permanently barred from using the commissary.

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