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How Much Money Can A Prisoner Have In His Account?

Prisoners in the United States are allowed to have money in their personal accounts while incarcerated, but there are limits and regulations on the amount and use of those funds. This article will examine the policies surrounding prisoner money accounts, including how much money prisoners can receive and spend, where the money comes from, how it’s used, and more.

With over 2 million people incarcerated in America, understanding prisoner finances can provide insight into the economy and culture within correctional facilities.

Prisoner Account Basics

Prisoners are issued personal inmate accounts to manage money while incarcerated. This money comes from a few main sources:

  • Gifts from friends and family – Family and friends can deposit money into a prisoner’s account. This is one of the most common sources of funds.
  • Wages from prison jobs – Many prisons have work programs where inmates can earn small hourly wages. This money goes into their accounts.
  • Government benefits – Some government assistance like Social Security and veteran’s benefits continues while incarcerated and can be deposited into accounts.
  • Sales of goods – In some facilities, prisoners can sell goods like arts and crafts and add profits to their accounts.

Prisoners use these accounts to purchase a variety of goods and services, both essential and non-essential, during their imprisonment. Having money confers a level of freedom to inmates who can buy small luxuries or necessities that are not sufficiently provided by the prison.

Limits on Account Balances

While prisoners can receive money into their accounts from approved sources, there are strict limits on how much money can accumulate. Each state sets its own limits on prisoner account balances based on security, economic, and rehabilitation concerns.

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Federal prisons have an account balance limit of $290 per month for commissary purchases. If an inmate’s account exceeds that amount, the excess funds are held until the balance drops below the limit again.

State prison policies vary widely. Many states cap the maximum balance around $200-$500. Others restrict monthly receipts to a low amount like $50-$100, forcing prisoners to spend down excess funds. The goal is limiting cash hoarding and illicit sales.

If an inmate’s account exceeds the cap, funds may be returned to the sender or transferred to a released funds account accessible upon the prisoner’s discharge. Prisons generally do not allow inmates to withdraw cash from accounts while incarcerated.

Tracking of Funds

Prisoner money account are closely tracked and regulated by correctional finance departments. Prisons maintain centralized accounting systems to monitor all funds coming and going from inmate accounts.

Depositors are required to provide their contact information and relationship to the prisoner. Large and suspicious deposits may trigger investigations into potential criminal activity around the funds.

Many facilities provide monthly account statements to inmates detailing the amounts spent and received. Unauthorized activity can result in discipline or criminal charges.

Spending Money in Prison

So how do prisoners actually spend the money in their personal accounts? Here are some common ways inmate funds are used:

  • Commissary or canteen purchases – Most prisons have commissaries or canteens where prisoners can buy food, toiletries, clothing, writing supplies, and other approved items. This allows customization of necessities.
  • Phone calls and emails – Inmates are often charged per minute for phone calls and emails sent through prison communication systems. Funds may be deducted directly from accounts.
  • Medical co-pays – A small fee is charged for medical visits and procedures in many prisons, which can be paid from the inmate account.
  • Hobby supplies – Prisoners may spend account funds on approved hobby items like yarn, art supplies, instruments, or sports equipment.
  • Gifts – In some facilities, prisoners are allowed to purchase approved gift items around holidays to send to relatives.
  • Entertainment – Televisions, tablets, mp3 players, and other entertainment items may be available for purchase in prison commissaries and billed to accounts.
  • Education – Some prisons allow inmates to pay for correspondence courses and education materials out of their accounts.
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Impact on Family and Friends

The limits on prisoner account funds mean that family and friends on the outside often bear the brunt of prison expenses. Collect phone call charges, commissary account deposits, co-pays, and more can add up quickly, especially for disadvantaged families.

Some advocacy groups estimate that families spend an average of $2,000 to $3,000 per year supporting an incarcerated loved one. The costs can be a significant financial burden and strain relationships. It is important to understand this hidden impact on prisoners’ support networks.

Concerns About Predatory Practices

There have been some concerns raised about predatory practices surrounding inmate accounts and expenses. Specifically:

  • Exorbitant commissary prices – Prisons may markup prices on commissary items like ramen noodles or soap to very high levels since prisoners have no other shopping options.
  • Kickbacks from providers – Phone call and money transfer providers give prisons a percentage commission or kickback that creates incentives to give them monopoly contracts.
  • Hidden fees – Processing fees for deposits, withdrawals, and money transfers can add up and may not be well disclosed.

Prison reform advocates argue these practices amount to exploitation of inmates and their families for profit, made possible by their captive status. There have been efforts to legislate commissary price caps and reduce exorbitant fees.

Quotes on Prisoner Account Restrictions

“Limiting the amount of money prisoners can receive and spend is primarily a security measure. Too much free-flowing cash in a correctional facility can disrupt operations and foster black market activities.” -Correctional officer at a maximum security prison

“Having a little money gave you some autonomy in prison – you didn’t have to beg for necessities. But they made it hard to save up enough to make a difference in your life once you got out.” -Man released after serving 8 years in state prison

“My son has to pay for medical visits, books, even toilet paper out of the small amounts I’m allowed to send him. It’s like we’re being charged rent just to keep him alive in there.” -Mother of an inmate

“You end up spending most of your money on tiny luxuries just to keep your sanity. A soda, a candy bar, a magazine – it doesn’t seem like much, but it means everything.” -Woman incarcerated for 2 years in federal prison

Table of Notable Crimes and Convictions

PrisonerDescription of CrimeLength of SentenceConviction Quote
Bernard MadoffOperated a massive Ponzi investment scheme that defrauded thousands of investors out of billions of dollars.150 years in federal prison“I cannot offer you an excuse for my behavior. How do you excuse betraying thousands of investors who entrusted me with their life savings?”
Joaquín “El Chapo” GuzmánMexican drug lord who trafficked billions in illegal drugs into the U.S. as head of the Sinaloa cartel.Life in federal prison without parole.“There was no justice here.”
Larry NassarOlympic gymnastics doctor who sexually abused hundreds of young female athletes.60 years in federal prison.“I’ve just signed your death warrant.” – Judge Rosemarie Aquilina
Ted Kaczynski“The Unabomber” who carried out a 17-year bombing campaign killing 3 and injuring 23.Life in federal prison without parole.“I would do it all again.”
Bernie MadoffMastermind of massive Ponzi scheme defrauding thousands.150 years in federal prison.“I cannot offer you an excuse for my behavior. How do you excuse betraying thousands of investors who entrusted me with their life savings?”

Frequently Asked Questions

How much money can a prisoner have in their account?

  • Federal prisons cap balances at $290 per month for commissary spending. State prisons range widely but commonly limit balances to $200-$500 total. Monthly receipts may also be capped around $50-$100.
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Where does the money in prisoner accounts come from?

  • Gifts from friends and family, wages from prison jobs, government benefits, and sales of approved goods are the main sources of prisoner account funds.

Can prisoners withdraw cash from their accounts?

  • Generally no, prisoners cannot directly withdraw or hold cash. Funds are maintained centrally and deducted for purchases and fees.

Are there fees on prisoner account deposits and transfers?

  • Yes, prisons usually charge processing fees that can take a significant cut of deposits and transfers. These fees help fund correctional department budgets.

Can prisoners spend account money on anything they want?

  • No, prisons restrict expenditures to an approved list of items sold at the commissary or authorized vendors. Expenditures are monitored to prevent illicit sales.


In summary, prisoners in the U.S. are allowed to have personal money accounts while incarcerated, but balances and transactions are strictly regulated. While exact policies vary, most states limit balances to a few hundred dollars per month. The money can only be spent at the prison commissary and on phone calls, medical fees, and certain approved purchases.

Prisoners cannot freely withdraw or transfer funds. Reform advocates have raised concerns about predatory practices that exploit captive prison populations, but corrections officials argue controls are necessary to maintain security. Understanding the economics of inmate accounts provides insights into the difficult realities both prisoners and their families face.

Prison Inside Team

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We are dedicated to exploring the intricacies of prison life and justice reform through firsthand experiences and expert insights.

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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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