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What Do Prisoners Do All Day? A Look at the Daily Life of Inmates

Prison life often conjures images of monotonous days filled with boredom and confinement. But the daily routines and activities of prisoners can vary greatly depending on the type of facility, security levels, and privileges earned. Getting a glimpse into what prisoners do day-to-day can provide insight into how incarceration impacts individuals.

Typical Daily Schedule and Routines

While each facility has its own policies, most follow a strict schedule to maintain order and security. A typical day may look like:


  • 5-6 AM – Wake up call and breakfast. Most prisoners are required to make their beds and tidy their living space before heading to the cafeteria.
  • 7-8 AM – Morning count. Correctional officers conduct an inmate count to ensure no one is missing or has escaped.
  • 9 AM – Work assignments, vocational classes, or medical visits. Many prisons have jobs like laundry, landscaping, janitorial work, and food service that inmates are required to do. Those with skills take vocational classes.


  • 12 PM – Lunch time. Prisoners get a break for lunch before resuming their work or activities.
  • 1 PM – Recreational time. Facilities usually allow 1-2 hours for exercise, sports, or leisure like watching TV or reading. Many have dedicated yards, gyms, or libraries.
  • 3 PM – Additional work or education programs. Some prisons offer GED or college courses for inmates seeking to advance their education.


  • 5 PM – Dinner. The last meal of the day in the cafeteria.
  • 6 PM – Free time. Inmates can socialize, shower, make phone calls, and unwind from the day. Certain facilities allow visitations during the evenings.
  • 9-10 PM – Final count and lockdown. Prisoners must return to their cells for the overnight inmate count before lights out.
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Strict adherence to the schedule allows correctional facilities to maintain control over the inmate population. While monotonous, the structured routine provides prisoners with purpose through work, learning, and rehabilitation programs.

Common Inmate Activities and Privileges

Beyond the required daily tasks, inmates have time each day to engage in sanctioned activities or enjoy privileges they’ve earned. Here are some of the most common ways prisoners can pass time:

Work Assignments

Work eligible inmates are required to maintain jobs within the prison facility such as:

  • Kitchen and cafeteria duties like food prep and cleaning
  • Janitorial and maintenance like cleaning common areas and doing repairs
  • Landscaping and groundskeeping of the prison yards and gardens
  • Laundry washing of inmate uniforms and facility linens
  • Clerical work like mail sorting and office assistance

Inmates typically work 6-8 hours a day on their assigned jobs. This gives them productive tasks to accomplish and skills to build.

Education and Vocational Training

Furthering their education is one of the most valuable activities for inmates. Prisons across the country are increasingly offering:

  • Academic classes – Many prisons have classrooms and teachers to help inmates earn their GED or high school diploma. Inmates who dropped out of school can advance their education.
  • College courses – Some facilities allow inmates to take college-level courses or even earn associate or bachelor’s degrees. This allows them to work towards degrees for after release.
  • Vocational training – Prisons provide useful job skills through vocational programs in trades like automotive mechanics, construction, plumbing, welding, and computer coding.

Education programs give inmates positive goals to work towards during incarceration and critical skills that lower recidivism rates.

Exercise and Recreation

Most prisons allow 1-2 hours per day for exercise and leisure activities:

  • Yard time – Inmates can get fresh air and walk, jog, or play sports like basketball, volleyball or handball in designated secure yards.
  • Gyms – Many prisons have workout facilities for weightlifting, cardio equipment, and exercise classes. Being active relieves stress.
  • Games – Boredom is common in prison. Inmates often play cards, chess, checkers, and board games with each other.
  • Reading – Facilities have libraries where prisoners can read books, magazines, newspapers to pass time.
  • Television – Watching TV in the common rooms is a popular downtime activity on weeknights and weekends.
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Recreational activities provide physical and mental breaks from the boredom of confinement.

Socializing and Hobbies

Daily social interactions and personal hobbies help inmates maintain mental health:

  • Socializing – Meals, yards, and rec rooms allow prisoners to talk and build friendships. Some write letters to pen pals outside prison.
  • Religious services – Attending religious gatherings or Bible study provides spiritual fulfillment.
  • Arts and music – Some prisons offer music or art classes. Inmates write songs, poetry, make crafts, or draw.
  • Crocheting and knitting – Yarn crafts like making blankets are popular prison pastimes that give a sense of purpose.

Meaningful social connections make time pass easier and benefit rehabilitation.

Visitation and Communication

Maintaining ties with family and friends outside prison is extremely impactful:

  • Visitation – Prisons allow visitation sessions a few days per week for a couple hours. Inmates can visit with loved ones in person.
  • Phone calls – Most facilities allow 5-15 minute phone calls 1-2 times a day to approved numbers. This allows inmates to call family/friends.
  • Video visits – Some systems let prisoners have virtual video call visits remotely with visitors through webcam technology.
  • Mail – Inmates can receive and write physical letters to stay in touch with outside contacts.

Staying connected to support systems lowers rates of recidivism after release.

Typical Daily Activities for Different Inmate Populations

Daily life inside prison can vary across facilities and security levels. The routines of specific inmate populations have some key differences.

Female Prisoners

Women inmates share similar schedules but have some unique activities:

  • Childcare – Many women’s prisons have programs for mothers to spend time with and bond with their children. This includes supervised play rooms.
  • Pregnancy care – Pregnant inmates get access to prenatal medical visits and motherhood classes to prepare.
  • Domestic activities – Some women learn skills like sewing, cooking, and housekeeping to aid reentry after prison.
  • Rehabilitation – Facilities target counseling, addiction treatment, and trauma programs at issues facing incarcerated women.
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Accommodating women’s needs, especially motherhood, is an essential part of their rehabilitation.

Youth Inmates

Juveniles in detention centers have tailored programs:

  • Classroom schooling – Licensed teachers conduct middle or high school classes for incarcerated youth to keep up with studies.
  • Trade skills – Auto mechanics, woodworking, and cooking classes teach career skills.
  • Counseling – Individual and group counseling aim to correct behavior problems and influences that contributed to crimes.
  • Recreation – Detention centers emphasize exercise and sports to engage energy and decrease behavioral incidents.
  • Life skills – Programs teach youth important abilities like managing money, cooking, and job readiness.

The focus for youth is education, behavior management, and habilitation.

Maximum Security

Inmates classified as high risk for violence or escape have tighter restrictions:

  • Regimented routine – Tight schedules with frequent inmate counts and close supervision by guards.
  • Single cells – Less time socializing; confined alone instead of sharing cells.
  • Limited mobility – Restricted program access and privileges. Handcuffed with escorts when moving about.
  • Work duties – Mainly individual janitorial and groundskeeping rather than vocational training.
  • Extra searches – More thorough searches of prisoner quarters and possessions.
  • Heavy monitoring – Constant video surveillance and guards observing all activities.

Safety takes priority over programming and privileges at maximum security levels.

While differences exist across populations, all inmates experience highly structured routines in the unique culture and environment of incarceration.

Sample Table of Prisoners’ Crimes and Sentences

InmateCrime Convicted OfSentence LengthDate Crime Committed
John SmithArmed robbery5 yearsMarch 2018
Jane DoeDrug trafficking3 yearsMay 2021
Michael JohnsonAssault18 monthsAugust 2020
Sarah DavisFraud2 yearsOctober 2019
Tyrone WilliamsBurglary9 monthsDecember 2022


Life inside prison is highly regimented and monotonous, yet inmates participate in a variety of work, educational, wellness, social, and personal development activities each day. Prison routines aim to modify behavior while providing rehabilitation programs that prepare individuals for reentry. While prisons could do more to foster healthy environments, understanding what prisoners do day-to-day provides a more complete picture of the inmate experience as well as the possibilities for positive change moving forward.

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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