Most jails and prisons in America allow friends and family members of inmates to make deposits to inmate money accounts. They are set up to give the inmate access to various services including commissary purchases and phone use. Some facilities deduct nominal amounts from these accounts for inmate health visits and other jail fees.
While the jail provides very basic life necessities for inmates, a commissary account allows the inmate to purchase extras for themselves
- Food: Inmates are fed but in many cases there are long hours between dinners and breakfast, sometimes as long as 14 hours. Commissary typically offers snack foods such as noodles, candy bars, jerky, chips, and beverages, to be stocked up on a consumed as desired.
- Personal Hygiene Items: The jail gives basic items such as small amounts of soap, toilet paper and toothpaste to inmates, but it is rarely enough to make it through the week or month. Many inmates use money/commissary accounts to buy shampoo, toothpaste, TP, deodorant, body wash and toothbrushes.
Video: Inmates make underwear to earn money for commissary items
- Stationery Supplies: Most jails will give indigent inmates an envelope or two each week for the purpose of writing to letters. Inmates who wish to write more often or to additional people can purchase stationery supplies from commissary. Paper, pencils, stamps and envelopes, greeting cards, art supplies and postcards are usually sold.
Rules and supplies vary, but radios, televisions and MP3 players are sometimes offered for sale at inflated prices.
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- Fees: Inmates are supposed to receive medical care even if they cannot pay for it, but many jails have moved to a system where if the inmate has money on the books a fee is deducted from that fund for each medical visit. In some cases the jail will keep track of how much an inmate owes for medical care or other fees and deduct the entire amount when a deposit is made to that inmate’s account.
- Phones: Some facilities will sell phone cards to inmates through commissary so the inmate can call friends and loved ones.
Jails usually limit the amount of money an inmate can spend on commissary each week. In deciding how much to deposit, remember that basic food and hygiene needs are already being met and what you are providing are extras.