Skip to content

How Much Money Can a Prisoner Have In Their Account: Prisoner Allowances

Prisoners face strict limits on the possessions and money they can access while incarcerated. Regulations aim to maintain security and prevent problems like contraband trade. However, inmates retain some rights to property, funds, and amenities. This article examines what prisoners can have, how much money they can access, and the reasons for restrictions.

Typical Restrictions on Prisoner Belongings and Purchases

Prisons tightly control prisoner belongings and purchases. Restrictions help maintain order and security.

Limitations on Items in Cells

Inmates only keep necessary personal belongings in their cells. Prohibited items include:

  • Weapons
  • Alcohol and illegal drugs
  • Tobacco products
  • Pornography
  • Electronics like cell phones, computers, and TVs

Prisons restrict quantities of approved items to control hoarding and fire risks.

Commissary Purchasing Limits

Inmates buy goods at the prison commissary, but face limits:

  • Food items have quantity restrictions.
  • Purchases of hobby craft supplies are capped.
  • Luxury items like coffee are rationed.

Controlling purchases prevents bartering and arguments.

Inmate Trust Fund Accounts and Limits on Cash Holdings

While incarcerated, prisoners keep money in prison-managed trust accounts. Restrictions apply to account balances and cash.

Trust Account Basics

Inmates cannot hold cash. All money goes into a centralized trust account. Funds derive from:

  • Prison job income
  • Family deposits into the account
  • Government benefits payments

Prison officials closely monitor trust accounts.

Caps on Trust Account Balances

Though practices vary, prisons usually limit trust account balances to several hundred dollars. Extra money is:

  • Returned to the sender
  • Donated to charity
  • Transferred to a separate interest-earning savings account
See also  How Much Prison Time Did Tory Lanez Get?

High balances could enable illicit trade.

Limits on Cash for Ex-Prisoners

When released, inmates receive the balance of their trust account as cash or a check. However, payout caps often apply, such as $500. These limits reduce risks of spending on crime.

Typical Approved Commissary Items for Prisoners

While restrictive, prison commissaries offer a variety of approved items across categories like food, clothing, electronics, hobby items, and more.

Food Items

Inmates can purchase a range of foods and drinks, including:

  • Snack foods like chips, cookies, and candy
  • Instant coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and drink mixes
  • Canned tuna, mackerel, and other proteins
  • Dehydrated soups and meal packs
  • Vitamins and supplements

Special dietary items may be available for religious needs or health conditions.

Clothing and Shoes

Inmates can buy:

  • Extra uniforms and underwear
  • Sweatshirts and sweatpants
  • Gym shorts and t-shirts
  • Shoes like sneakers, slippers, and work boots

Availability varies by facility.


Some commissaries offer:

  • Small TVs and radios
  • MP3 players without internet access
  • E-readers without internet access
  • Alarm clocks and watches

Device restrictions enhance security.

Hobby and Recreation Items

Inmates can purchase:

  • Playing cards and games
  • Art supplies like drawing pads, colored pencils and paint
  • Yarn and needles for knitting
  • Spiritual texts like bibles and prayer books

These activities support mental health.

Hygiene and Healthcare Products

Commissaries provide healthcare basics unavailable for free:

  • Soap, shampoo, toothpaste
  • Over-the-counter medicines
  • Supplemental foods for health conditions

Inmates must pay for anything beyond necessities.

Other Miscellaneous Items

Prisons may offer:

  • Stationery and stamps
  • Laundry detergent and sewing kits
  • Fans and hot pots
  • Educational books
  • Gift packages for family

Availability depends on the facility’s policies.

Typical Range of Inmate Account Balances

Inmate account balances range widely from just a few dollars up to the maximum permitted based on prison policy, which is often a few hundred dollars. Some patterns emerge among different groups.

Inmates with Little or No Money

Many prisoners have zero balance accounts or just a few dollars. Sources of low balances include:

  • No family support for deposits
  • Lack of prison job
  • Sending funds to family
  • High commissary purchases

Low balances limit commissary access.

Average Account Balances

Typical balances range from around $25 to $200, with median amounts around $60 to $100. Average inmates:

  • Earn prison jobs paying $20 to $60 a month
  • Receive moderate family deposits
  • Make selective commissary purchases
  • Conserve some savings

They can afford some amenities without hitting caps.

Near Max Balances

A minority of inmates maintain high balances of several hundred dollars. Sources include:

  • Wealthy families regularly depositing money
  • Lucrative prison job assignments
  • Few expenditures and conserved savings
See also  How Do Prisoners Pay Their Fines?

These prisoners enjoy the widest commissary access.

Common Reasons for Restrictions on Prisoner Money and Possessions

Authorities regulate inmate belongings, funds, and purchases to maintain security and order. Reasons include:

Stopping Illicit Commerce

Limits prevent exploitation of excess prisoner funds and goods. Contraband trade and extortion would surge without caps.

Limiting Rivalries and Violence

Penal restrictions minimize conflicts and gang power struggles related to coveted goods. Unchecked assets exacerbate problems.

Reducing Fire Hazards

Hoarded belongings raise fire risks. Limits ensure safety standards are met.

Facilitating Rehabilitation

Restrictions reinforce the austerity of prison life. Inmates develop discipline and moderation to reintegrate into society.

Enabling Monitoring

Oversight of inmate finances and trust accounts aids investigations of suspicious activity. Unlimited resources would enable misconduct.

Protecting Public Safety

Released prisoners with large sums of cash may be tempted to purchase drugs or weapons. Limits reduce immediate recidivism risks.

Though strict, commissary and property limits uphold prisons’ duty to safely house inmates.

Notable Crimes Committed by Prisoners While Incarcerated

Though incarcerated, some prisoners still commit serious crimes requiring additional convictions. Restrictions on prisoner belongings and funds aim to deter misconduct.

Case Study 1: Drug Smuggling Ring

  • Crime: Smuggling heroin, meth, and marijuana into prison for distribution
  • Date: 2015 – 2017
  • Location: Indiana Department of Corrections
  • Summary: 27 people including inmates, guards, and civilians participated in an organized drug ring with drugs smuggled in through the prison kitchen. Over $30,000 worth of drugs were transported.
  • Outcome: Convicted on additional charges of trafficking with sentences extended.

Case Study 2: Cell Phone Smuggling

  • Crime: Smuggling cell phones and selling them to other inmates
  • Date: 2014 – 2015
  • Location: Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida
  • Summary: A prison guard took bribes to sneak in phones. An inmate sold them to others for $400 to $600 each, enabling criminal activity.
  • Outcome: Both perpetrators received added convictions and prison time.

Case Study 3: Identity Theft and Tax Fraud

  • Crime: Stealing identities and filing fraudulent tax returns
  • Date: 2011 – 2012
  • Location: Anamosa State Penitentiary in Iowa
  • Summary: Three prisoners worked together to steal Social Security numbers and file fake returns seeking $200,000 in refunds. One inmate already had convictions for identity theft.
  • Outcome: Additional convictions for identity theft and tax fraud.

Contraband restrictions deter these serious crimes against the public.

Quotes on Prison Contraband Restrictions from Corrections Professionals

Prison officials emphasize the importance of commissary and property restrictions for maintaining security.

“Contraband poses real dangers in our facilities. Working closely with law enforcement, we’ve made progress intercepting illegal materials and reducing risks.” – Bureau of Prisons Director

“We’ve overhauled commissary guidelines to be more restrictive on food items that were being misused by inmates for bartering and hoarding.” – State Corrections Commissioner

“Responsible policies on prisoner possessions and finances help us ensure the safety of inmates, guards, and the public.” – County Jail Warden

“Items that seem harmless like excess snacking foods can be problematic in the prison environment by becoming gambling currency and a source of fights.” – Prison Policy Expert

“Our restrictions may appear harsh, but striking the right balance is critical to preventing worse problems like violence.” – Corrections Officer

Officials emphasize security while acknowledging the need for some amenities.

See also  How Much Is A TV In Prison: The Reality of Prison Televisions

Can inmates access cash while incarcerated?

No, prisoners cannot hold physical cash. All money goes into centralized prison trust accounts. Cash payouts are restricted upon release.

What commissary items are prohibited?

Commissaries prohibit weapons, alcohol, tobacco, electronics, luxuries, and food quantities enabling hoarding. Restricted items vary by facility.

Are there limits on gifts sent to prisoners?

Yes, prisons often restrict gifts of cash, items that are barred at the commissary, and packages over certain values or sizes. Families should check regulations.

Can prisoners earn money through jobs?

Yes, inmates can get limited paid prison jobs, with wages going into their trust accounts. Jobs may pay $20 to $100 or more a month depending on skill levels.

What happens if my account balance exceeds the maximum?

When accounts exceed caps on balances, the excess may be returned to the sender, donated to charity, or transferred into a restricted savings fund depending on policy.

In summary, prisons place tight restrictions on prisoner belongings, purchases, cash holdings, and account balances. While harsh, these limits aim to maintain security, order, and rehabilitation incentives in correctional facilities. Consistent policies and enforcement help ward off problems.


Prisoners face understandable restrictions on their access to money and possessions while incarcerated. Limits aim to improve safety and order by reducing illicit trade in contraband goods, curtailing gang violence, and encouraging rehabilitation. Inmates retain rights to basic amenities and strictly regulated trust accounts. However, maximum caps keep balances modest.

Though restrictive, commissary regulations allow prisoners approved items that support health and morale. Security is a top priority, but striking a balance preserves human dignity. This review of policies, account balances, restricted items, and official perspectives provides insights into managing inmate allowances in a way that promotes security and rehabilitation.

Prison Inside Team

Share this post on social

See also  How Much are Phone Calls from Federal Prison?

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.

See also  How Much Does It Cost To Get Married In Prison?