Two of our October posts were concerning working in prison, and the pay that an incarcerated individual receives. What can people inside do with the money they earn? That is, besides save it for when they’re released, if they are able.

As an incarcerated person, the state provides you with three meals a day. You might feel that you need to supplement those meals. You might feel, like those of us on the outside do, that you’d like to treat yourself. That is where your pay, which is kept for you in a “bank account,” comes in. Let’s imagine that you earn $7 a week. In the commissary, you could purchase a single 5-oz Reese’s cup for $5.50. Or you could get two single servings of breakfast cereal for $3.50 each. A 3-oz package of ramen noodles, around 45¢ in the grocery store,  is 73¢. A container of imitation sugar-free honey at $7.80 would be out of your reach.

If you can prove you’re indigent, the state provides personal hygiene products — 1 bar of soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, and small container of shampoo. Otherwise, you need to buy these products. The state provides 3 boxers, 3 pairs of cotton socks. 1 set each of long underwear, sweatshirt, and sweatpants, and two or three sets of “scrubs” which must be worn when outside the unit or the rec yard. You are expected to purchase a towel ($7.50).  If you need more clothing, you must purchase them as well. If you don’t have family on the outside putting money into your account (which can be a great hardship for some families, who have lost an income provider) then this will come out of your pay.

Price Hike

Keefe Commissary Network recently announced a price hike, roughly 8.5% across the board. Keefe is a huge company supplying commissary items to prisons across the country. When you purchase any items while in prison, it is from Keefe. There is no competition to regulate prices. So Keefe gets to increase prices, but the state has no obligation to raise pay.

Phone and Messaging

The Vermont DOC acknowledges that connection to family is important to an incacerated person’s well-being. Communications with loved ones is another thing that prisoners need to pay for. ConnectNetwork, owned and operated by GTL, is the provider.  Deposit $50 into a phone account, and  $4.63 will be deducted for a processing fee. For a 20-minute phone call, the charge is $1.50. A single phone call will cost you more than a day’s pay. They also provide a messaging system. Messages may take up to 24 hours to be delivered, every message is monitored by the facility.  Twenty-five cents will get you a message of up to 2000 characters, 50¢ for a message and photo, video and a message, $1.25. It’s a pretty lucrative business.

Read our posts about working in prison:

The Reality of Prison Employment

Prison Employment, Part 2

The New York Times recently ran this article by Patrick Irving that deals with Keefe Commissary

Prisoners Like Me Are Being Held Hostage by Price Hikes

One Comment

  1. JuanJose El Tres November 10, 2022 at 7:29 pm - Reply

    Awesome follow-up! Thank you so much for making so many aware of these egredgious abuses of discretion, often at the expense of the Families of incarcerated persons – further victimizing them.
    It seems we really DO need Civilian Oversight. And Audits… and a Better Way…

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