Everything You Need to Know About Prison Commissary

Everything You Need to Know About Prison Commissary

A prison commissary or canteen is a resourceful store within a prison from which inmates housed in that facility can purchase products not offered by the prison. Prison means denial of freedoms, including access to some essential items. A commissary comes in handy to provide inmates with a chance to acquire some of these essential items and other luxury items. However, inmates are not allowed to have cash while in lockdown. As such, they can only make purchases through a commissary account, which they acquire when booked into a specific facility. Inmates can fund the account through wages or deposits from friends and family ones.

Sending money to an incarcerated individual in prison is among the best ways to help them keep moving and alleviate their suffering in jail. If they can afford a snack or a noodle at the canteen, it goes a long way to lift their spirits and motivate them to hold on. There are many ways to deposit funds into an inmate’s account, but this depends on the rules and regulations of a specific correctional facility where they are held. You will also need to have an inmate’s full names, prison identification, and location of the facility. It is advisable to engage a facility’s authorities to learn about their rules and regulations about sending funds to inmates.

What Jail Commissary Items Can Prisoners Purchase?

Correctional facilities are limited to basic needs such as clothing and three meals in a day, but with additional funds, in their commissary accounts, they can buy some allowed additional items. However, there are rules that dictate how the funds are used; there are even some sub-accounts for categories of items that an inmate can purchase, commissaries, medical or postage items. Sometimes inmates can be allowed to borrow items when they have no funds in their accounts but are expected to pay as soon as they are refilled.

Some of the items that inmates can purchase at the canteen are featured in the following list:

  • Foods
  • Medications
  • Drinks
  • Snack items
  • Recreation items
  • Stamps
  • Health products
  • Hygiene products (including feminine hygiene)
  • Clothing
  • Dental products
  • Cosmetics
  • Candies
  • Shoes
  • Batteries
  • Haircare
  • Soup
  • Condiments
  • Laundry items
  • Foot care
  • School and office supplies

Inmates are also allowed to buy miscellaneous items such as sunglasses, mp3 players, air fresheners, radio, and headphones. However, an item’s availability depends on the rules of an individual facility. Some might be allowed in other facilities and prohibited in others.

When Do Inmates Get Commissary and the Process Involved?

Access to the prison canteen depends on individual facilities; the schedule might differ between different correctional facilities. Some allow inmates access twice in two weeks, but mostly it is restricted to once in two weeks. The schedule could also be organized according to a prison’s housing units. An inmate gets items according to the funds in their commissary account. However, most facilities limit the amount an inmate can spend in a single visit to the canteen. In federal facilities, the schedule is strictly one in a week.

Inmates in most facilities are categorized into different levels. Those in higher levels pause a higher risk while those in lower levels are deemed relatively less dangerous. The higher a security threat an inmate is considered, the fewer the options they are allowed to have at the commissary.

Items at the prison canteen can be bought in two ways:

  • In-person sale; an inmate personally makes the purchases at the store. Before picking the items, the inmate fills an order form and presents it to the commissary clerk. The clerk checks the order and deducts the total amount spent from the inmate’s commissary account. The order is then placed in a container so they can empty the items into their personal carrier bag.
  • Bag Sale; with this means, the orders come once after every two weeks for most facilities. However, the schedules and dates differ in different prisons. The correctional facilities offer their inmates a commissary catalog with a list of available items. If an inmate needs an item, they submit an order form to the security officer, who forwards it to the commissary employee. When the order is received, the items are packed in a bag marked with an inmate’s ID number, name, and housing unit. The funds are also deducted from their account accordingly.

How Much Money Does An Inmate Need For Commissary?

Most facilities have individual limits of the amount of funds that inmates can have for commissary. Most do not allow an expenditure of over $ 300 per month on commissary items. However, in many federal and state facilities, an amount between $120 and $ 200 is quite a reasonable budget. There is always the question of how does an inmate know they have money? Well, after a deposit is made, an inmate receives a receipt after 24hours to three days.

Items Used as Currency

Most facilities have a limitation on how much an inmate can spend on commissaries. Moreover, inmates are not allowed to have cash in. This presents a problem since needs could exceed what is a specific amount covers. Consequently, inmates exchange items with each other in a barter trade kind of arrangement. Some of the commonly exchanged items used as currency include:

Postage stamps; inmates are encouraged to keep tabs on their loved ones by sending and receiving mails. This creates a high demand for postage stamps.

Ramen noodles; prison food is obviously not the best. Moreover, there are frequent cutbacks that create a high demand for snacks and high-calorie delicacies, including ramen noodles.

Coffee; in most correctional facilities, there are limitations to the number of coffee packs that an inmate can buy at the store. In fact, in federal prisons and jail, offenders are only allowed one coffee packet every week. As such, coffee is a high-demand commodity.

Cigarettes, most facilities have been dropping cigarettes from their list of commissaries. This has consequently increased the demand for such. This is among the most exchanged currency in most facilities.

Surprising Things You Can Purchase in Prison Commissary

Prison commissaries offer some of the simplest items you can think of, but there are other unique provisions that you might be surprised to find in a prison store. These are, however, not commonly sold since they can compromise jail security.

Some of the unexpected items you can purchase in a commissary could include the following:

  • Crochet hooks; these are mainly used for recreational purposes, but offenders could use them as weapons hence restrictions on sale.
  • Locks; in some facilities, inmates are allowed to have wardrobes to keep their commissaries hence the need for a lock. These, however, make detection of contrabands challenging.
  • Scissors
  • Douche
  • Sporks

Sending Money to an Inmate

The loved ones of an inmate are permitted to deposit funds into their loved ones’ commissary accounts. This is possible through several authorized avenues; you can choose what is convenient for you. Some of the means of sending money include:

Through Mail

You can send money orders or a cashier’s check via mail to make deposits into an inmate’s account. The enclosed order or check should have an inmate’s full names and prison identification number. Cash, personal, and business checks are not acceptable in most correctional facilities.

  • Money orders; are issued at convenience stores, retailers, check-cashing establishments, and banks. They are paid for through debit cards, wire transfers, or cash. They have no limitations, but a single order cannot exceed $ 1000.
  • Cashier’s check; this is similar to a money order, but it can only be issued at the bank. A cashier’s check is purchased with cards, cash, or bank funds.

Onsite Cash Deposits at Individual Facility

You can also make physical deposits at a kiosk in most facilities ‘ lobby. Here you deposit cash directly into an inmate’s commissary account.

Deposits through Third-Party Services

Most correctional facilities also allow outsiders to deposit funds into inmates’ accounts through third-party service providers. However, these entities charge a small fee for the services rendered, usually not more than $10. You are also expected to provide an inmate’s full names, location, and DOC number for identification. Some of the most used third-party services include the following:

Western Union; this is a dependable money transfer service that offers online deposits or strategically placed kiosks in particular retailers, including Fred Meyer, Duane Reed, Money Tree, Rite Aid, Safeway, and Walgreens. If you intend to send through this avenue, you can look up the locations near you on their official website.

Money Gram; you can also use Money Gram to send cash to an inmate’s account online or deposit cash at designated Money Gram kiosks at different recognizable retailers such as CVS Pharmacy, Walmart, 7/11, or Albertsons. Upon delivery, some facilities provide you with a receive code to confirm your funds have been delivered successfully.

JPay Services; running an inmate’s bank account system can be a complicated endeavor that many prisons and jails cannot handle. As such, many facilities rely on JPay. This entity acts as a go-between money senders and receivers. To send money, you are required to register on their website and enter the relevant payment details, including an inmate’s full names, location, and DOC identification number. JPay charges a small fee to make these deposits. You can engage them on 1-800-574-5729 if you intend to send money through their services.


Life in prison can be challenging even on the toughest of individuals. However, the whole experience is alleviated by access to commissary items. It is quite uplifting when an inmate receives funds in their commissary accounts, enabling them to purchase luxury items that are hard to come by. Consequently, you are encouraged to send something to your loved ones in jail to make their life bearable.