How Do Jail Commissaries Work?

How Do Jail Commissaries Work?

On the average day, approximately 1.9 million people find themselves locked behind bars in a jail or prison. With the number so high, there's a chance that you might know someone who's in jail right now.

People go to jail for breaking the law, and the time spent there varies from several hours to months or years. While a person is in jail, they have access to few things. However, they can access the jail commissary.

Do you understand what this is? If not, it might be essential to learn if you have a loved one locked up at this time. 

Here is a guide to help you understand what a jail commissary is and how it works.

Inmates Only Receive Necessities From the Jail

When the jail books someone, they are responsible for providing the person with basic human needs. For example, jails must provide inmates with necessary clothing based on their gender.

They must also provide food to the inmates and sleeping accommodations. All inmates must also have access to water, plumbing, electricity, and heat. However, the jail doesn't have to provide luxuries to the inmates.

For example, they don't have to provide snacks, coffee, and pop. They also don't have to give you extra clothing items or nicotine products.

Therefore, inmates only receive the absolute necessities from the jail. The rest is up to the inmate, and inmates rely on loved ones to offer commissary funds. 

Inmates Can't Have Cash

It's also important to know that inmates can't have cash. Therefore, you can't send a few dollars through the mail to them. The jail will intercept the money because inmates don't need cash.

In fact, inmates can't use money in jail. Money is virtually useless, as they can't use it to buy things. Instead, they can use funds through their commissary account to buy things. 

The jail provides a commissary fund for everyone locked behind bars, but the jail holds no responsibility for funding the accounts. 

They Might Have the Opportunity to Work 

Inmates can fund their accounts in two ways. First, they might be able to work while they're in jail. If the jail offers jobs to the inmates, they can sign up to work. 

The jail won't pay the inmates with cash for their work. The jail also doesn't have to follow fair labor laws for paying the workers. The average prison worker earns $0.52 per hour, but this is just an average.

Therefore, the jobs inmates take while in jail won't make them rich. However, it can give them some spending money on their commissary account, as the jail puts the money there on payday. 

The other way inmates can fund their accounts is through friends and relatives. If an inmate's friends and family want to give them money, they can do this by funding their commissary account.

Funding a person's commissary account is one of the best ways to help someone in jail, but there are also other ways to help a person. 

Jails Offer a Commissary

So, what is a jail commissary? As you've probably learned by now, it's a fund that the inmates can use to buy things. Every jail offers a commissary, but the procedures for depositing money into them might vary. 

Anyone can deposit money into an inmate's commissary account. However, you can't see a person's balance or how they've spent the money.

The inmates can view their commissary account through computers or tablets, depending on the jail. Inmates are also responsible for managing their accounts. In other words, they must decide how to budget their money.

Inmates Buy Things From the Jail Commissary

When you send money to jail commissaries, the inmates you send it to can check their accounts. When they have money, they can use it to purchase things. 

Most jails let the inmates order things. Then, the commissary delivers the items to the inmates. However, this process isn't instant; it might take a few days. 

The products they can purchase also vary by jail. However, most jails sell the following items:

Food and Drinks

Inmates often feel hungry after meals or crave snacks and drinks, so they might buy food and drinks through the jail commissary. Most jails sell coffee, pop, candy bars, chips, and many other food products. 

Personal Hygiene Products

Inmates can also buy various personal hygiene products. For example, they might be able to purchase lotion, shampoo, razors, and a new toothbrush. 

Paper Products

Most jail commissaries also sell paper products, such as pencils, envelopes, paper, and stamps. These items give the inmates the items needed to write and send letters. 


Many jails also sell additional clothing items through their commissaries. For example, you might be able to purchase a sweatshirt if you're always cold.

Commissary Makes Their Life in Jail a Little Better

Funding jail commissary funds for inmates provides a way for families and friends to help their loved ones. When you give money to an inmate, you can make their life in jail a little better. 

Inmates don't have much freedom. However, their commissary gives them a small taste of freedom, allowing them to buy some things the jail doesn't offer. 

If you're looking for a way to help someone you love while they're in jail, this is one of the best options to consider. 

Deposit Funds in a Jail Commissary for Your Loved One

If you've never been to jail and don't know anyone who has, you might not know much about jail commissary. However, you might understand it after reading this guide. 

Would you like to give a loved one in jail some money to spend while there? Contact us at Jail Exchange to locate an inmate or deposit funds to their commissary account.