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Prison Commissary: Lists & Rules

The Prison Commissary and Inmate’s Accounts

What is a Prison Commissary?

The facility commissary is a store located inside the facility specifically for offenders. A prison commissary is very important to the daily life of an inmate in any prison or jail. For the most part, prison food is not only terrible, but many times does not satisfy daily basic nutritional requirements. For the last twenty years, the states and local governments have reduced the budgets for prisons and jails. The budget decreases have reduced the quality of the food for inmates. Inmates have depended on the commissary store to supplement their diet. Prison commissaries sell products from private companies. The commissary workers are inmates who are supervised by correctional officers. You can count on high prices for the items that are available in the commissary store. However, an inmate can supplement his prison diet with various products such as sausage,low grade beef, ramen noodles, cookies, and cereals. The quality of the commissary food items are fair, but definitely a notch above the prison diet. In its own way and all its faults, the commissary store is still an important  link to life outside the prison walls.

Prison Commissary Items

Inmates can purchase from some commissary stores non-food items such as vitamins, hygiene items, pads, and pens. The products vary from prison to prison.

How do the inmates pay the commissary store? An inmate may have a job at the prison and he will earn from $.95 to $2.00 a day. The money earned working does not go very far at the high price prison stores. The prison will usually receive money from the private company supplying the commissary store. Inmates depend on monetary help from their families. It is important to check the rules at each prison on sending money to an inmate. There will be a cap on the amount. You should not send cash. For an example of rules on sending money to an inmate,  see the following New York state prison rules:


“Offenders are not permitted to physically possess money while they are incarcerated. This includes paper money and coins. In order to allow offenders to buy things they need or want, their money is held in their offender account. Jobs, assignments and gifts from family and friends are the usual sources for these funds. The offender can use the money in their account to buy items from the commissary or send money home.”

“You need to know that often there are court surcharges, fees, or other encumbrances that offenders may have that are unpaid. Monies coming in from the outside will be applied to those outstanding obligations. Other than the offender’s incentive wage, funds may not be available for commissary and other items until these obligations are satisfied. Preferably, money should be sent in the form of a money order or a certified check. It is recommended that you do not send cash or a personal check. Personal checks may take longer to clear. Please include the offender’s DIN as well as your name and complete address on the check or money order. Visitors may leave money for an inmate. Unidentified money coming into the facility through the mail will be treated as contraband.”

“Offenders receive a monthly print-out of their account balances. Any questions that you may have regarding the offender’s account should be directed to the offender. He/she has access to that information in the facility. Facilities will not give information over the phone concerning the status of an offender’s account.”

It is important to remember that the rules and regulations  regarding the prison commissary and sending money for the inmate’s account varies from prison system to prison system and from prison to prison. To avoid delays funding the inmate’s account, you have to check the rules and regulations on the particular prison’s web site.

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8 Responses to The Prison Commissary and Inmate’s Accounts

  1. Brian October 6, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    How can you find out how much is left in the inmates commissary account?

    • PrisonPath October 8, 2012 at 11:54 pm #


      The inmate would have access to hid commissary account.

  2. evelyn February 28, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    How much can you spend for each shopping day

    • PrisonPath February 28, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

      Hi Evelyn,

      Every prison has their own schedule for commissary.

  3. PrisonPath August 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Brian Pierce– Commissary allows an inmate to once in a while have a few things that make him or her feel almost like a real person. It can also help one survive. While I was in the first time back in 1987 I ran a store. I had no family to give me money and no way to get anything like shampoo etc. until I started making a little money running a store. Just making out the commissary list was fun and eased the pressure.

  4. PrisonPath August 28, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

    Been there….done that. The biggest complaint about prison commissaries is the pricing and the quality of some things that are available. It’s true they are in prison but this should not be a reason to charge them double, sometimes triple what the actual street price is. A lot of times the product may actually only cost 1/4th or 1/5th of the amount being charged. This in return creates a hardship on the inmates families that send in money to help them because there are definitely not enough jobs inside any institution available for all to work and make a few dollars each month. True, the institution (or state) also gets its cut from the sales. A lot of times the administration will say this goes into an inmate account to help pay for the few activities that happen inside. Don’t you believe it! Not only the commissary, but in some institutions the inmates even have to pay to go to sick call and for medications. It isn’t a lot, but a sick call visit at $4.00 a visit can mean that if you had to go 4 times in a month, then your month’s wages you earned at your prison “job” has been wiped out. I think an investigation of prison commissaries nationwide should be done by an independent agency that is non-governmental affiliated.
    By Rev. Don

  5. Anthea M. Boarman, J.D. January 5, 2014 at 9:40 pm #

    I was a Post-Conviction DPA in KY until 2001 when I had a stroke, followed by post-stroke diseases. I see highly inflated commissary costs, package limitations, prohibitions on used clothing, and denial of entrepreneurship, restrictions on postage, and poor nutrition value in available food. The Abu Grabe mentality is visible; Cages and cells result in denial of socialization. Why does this have to be? My former client is in LLCC in LaGrange KY. There are 8 adults being denied the opportunity for free communication as the State allows Constitutional Rights to be violated in “CPP’s (administrative regulations. What is the best way to gain credibility for Legal Aides? How can we challenge inadequate health delivery? HIV and Hep-C and TB are health conditions, not acceptable excuses for torture.

  6. WorriedSick January 16, 2016 at 1:18 am #

    I need some advice please, if you violate your parole is it a guarantee that you will be sent back?? the crime is domestic. Thanks in advance

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