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How Much Are Shoes In Prison?

For most people, buying a pair of shoes is a simple errand – walk into a store, find a style you like, try them on, and pay for them. But for prison inmates, obtaining shoes can be a more complicated and expensive process. Many prisoners rely on their families to provide money for commissary accounts to purchase items like shoes. However, prison shoes often come with a hefty price tag.

In this article, we’ll explore the factors affecting the cost of shoes for those incarcerated, including prison supplier monopolies, the quality of footwear provided, and differences across men’s and women’s facilities. By looking at real-world examples of shoe costs behind bars, as well as quotes from those convicted, we’ll uncover why something as basic as sneakers can put such a dent in an inmate’s limited funds.

Factors Affecting Shoe Costs for Prisoners

Prison Supplier Monopolies Drive Up Prices

Most jails and prisons have exclusive contracts with a single supplier to provide commissary items like food, hygiene products, clothing, and shoes for inmates. This gives the supplier a monopoly over the captive prison market, removing any incentive to keep prices competitive. Markups on goods can be substantial compared to stores on the outside.

For example, the Keefe Group has exclusive contracts with hundreds of correctional facilities across the United States. As the sole provider of shoes to inmates at many of these prisons, Keefe has the ability to charge higher premiums without fear of losing business to competitors.

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Quality of Standard-Issue Shoes is Lacking

To avoid walking around in state-issued shoes, many prisoners opt to buy better footwear through commissary programs. However, the quality of standard shoes provided to inmates is notoriously poor. Thin soles, lack of support, and cheap materials mean the shoes often don’t last long with daily use.

Ronald Smith, who served time in Florida, described the shoes provided by the prison: “They were paper thin. After 2 months, they had holes and were coming apart.” Getting custom orthotics or medical shoes sometimes requires sending requests up multiple bureaucratic levels or even filing lawsuits. For prisoners who need decent footwear for health reasons, ordering from commissary is often the only viable option.

Women’s Prisons Have More Limited Options

Commissary offerings in female correctional institutions tend to lag far behind the options available to men. Limited quantities, styles, sizes, and brands mean high demand and low supply of women’s shoes in prison.

Beverly Logan, who was incarcerated in Kansas, described her experience: “The men’s units offered Nike, Reebok, New Balance. We got no-name shoes – slip-ons or basic laced sneakers once a year.” The cost of women’s prison shoes reflects these supply constraints. Pairs often sell for over $30, even nearing $100 for brands like Nike.

A Breakdown of Real-World Prison Shoe Costs

To understand exactly how much inmates are paying for shoes, here is a sampling of prices from commissary lists at facilities across the United States:

Men’s Prisons

  • Louisiana State Penitentiary – Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Low Tops: $75.00
  • San Quentin State Prison, California – Nike Tennis Shoes: $42.00
  • Leavenworth Federal Prison, Kansas – Reebok Classic Leather Sneakers: $60.00
  • Rikers Island, New York City – Timberland Ankle Boots: $100.00

Women’s Prisons

  • Federal Correctional Institution, Tallahassee – Nike Air Max: $85.00
  • Central California Women’s Facility – Reebok Princess Sneakers: $36.50
  • York Correctional Institution, Connecticut – No-Brand Slip-On Shoes: $31.99
  • Camille Griffin Graham Correctional Institution, South Carolina – Pony Canvas Sneakers: $22.50

These examples show the huge range in shoe costs facing inmates, from just $22.50 for slip-on no-brands to over $100 for name-brand sneakers and boots at higher security men’s prisons. Geographic location, security levels, demand, and supplier deals with correctional facilities all influence what appears on commissary shoe lists.

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Quotes on Prison Shoe Costs from Those Convicted

To provide more perspective, here are some direct quotes on buying shoes while incarcerated from people who have been through the prison system:

“My family couldn’t afford to send much money, so I wore my state-issued shoes until they were unwearable. I got athlete’s foot because the soles were so thin.” – David S., served 3 years in a Minnesota correctional facility

“Getting Nikes was a status symbol in prison. If your family didn’t put money in your commissary, you couldn’t afford the ‘cool’ shoes.” – Ray T., served 18 months in San Quentin, California

“As a larger sized woman, it was hard finding shoes that fit me. I wore men’s sneakers because they had more options. $40 for a pair of shoes might not seem like much, but that’s a huge amount when you’re making $0.14/hour in prison.” – Ellen P., served 5 years in the Central California Women’s Facility

“I’m a size 15 shoe, which are impossible to find in prison. My family bought me shoes and had them shipped in, but it cost them almost $200 with shipping.” – Frank L., served 8 years in a Texas state prison

These first-hand experiences reveal the true cost of shoes extends beyond the monetary expense. Lacking proper footwear can impact health, social status, gender identity, and the connection between inmates and family members on the outside.

Frequently Asked Questions on Shoe Costs for Prisoners

How much do shoes in prison actually cost?

Prison shoe costs vary widely, ranging from $20 to $100+. State-issued shoes are free but poorly made. Basic slip-ons from commissary run $20-40. Name brands like Nike, Reebok, and Timberland can cost upwards of $75-100. Women generally have fewer options and higher costs.

Why are prison shoes so expensive?

Single suppliers have monopolies in many prisons, allowing them to drive up shoe prices. Poor quality free shoes force inmates to buy from commissary. High demand plus low supply also increases costs, especially in women’s prisons with limited options. Brand names carry premium prices due to status symbols.

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How often can you buy shoes in prison?

Most prisons allow inmates to purchase shoes 1-2 times per year. Damaged or worn-out shoes can sometimes be swapped more frequently by request. Poor quality of free shoes means prisoners rely on buying higher-priced commissary shoes that last longer.

Can families send shoes to inmates?

Some prisons allow packages with shoes to be mailed in by family. This gives access to better sizing/width options but requires paying shipping fees. Most facilities restrict packages and require shoes to be ordered through commissary system.

Are there programs to get shoes for prisoners who can’t afford them?

A few organizations like the Prisoner Assistance Alliance try to provide shoes to inmates in need. But these small non-profits have limited resources. Most prisoners rely on their own funds or family contributions to buy shoes. Indigent inmates are stuck with standard-issue footwear unless a medical need grants special access.


For the incarcerated, acquiring shoes becomes about much more than simply covering one’s feet. The quality of shoes provided, high commissary prices, status symbols, health implications, and reliance on family support all reveal the burdens tied to this basic commodity behind bars. By understanding the true costs inmates face for shoes, we can better empathize with those who are too often forgotten by society.

Perhaps in the future, increasing competition and improved standards around prison services could alleviate some of these shoe struggles. But until larger reform takes place, shoes will remain another area where prisoners must pay an outsized price beyond dollars and cents. Simple indignities can sometimes be the heaviest burden.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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