The United States incarcerates more people than any other country on the planet. Such a large prison population represents a serious market for companies that supply correctional facilities’ commissaries, such as St. Louis-based Keefe Group. Between inmates’ basic rights to certain comfort items and contractors lobbying to get more products into facilities, prisoners have access to a surprising array of amenities.
5 Food Selection
At every level of incarceration, from federal prison to county jail, inmates with enough money “on their books” can eschew facility food for fare purchased through the commissary. While most of the selections consist of mundane junk food like chips and candy, or staples such as peanut butter and Ramen noodles, some of the food available in prison commissaries is downright surprising. Sriracha sauce and yellowfin tuna in Thai chili sauce, anyone? Or perhaps you’re in the mood for pizza tonight. Just pick up a pizza kit with crusts and sauce, add a little white meat chicken, some cheese, olives, jalapeño peppers… and kick it up with the onion you pocketed from the kitchen: Prison pizza paradise!
4 Video Game Consoles
Inmates in states like Maryland and Wisconsin can purchase video game consoles—which they can hook up to their personal flat-screen TVs—and lose themselves in a virtual reality that is considerably different from the reality in which they’re living. Game choices are typically limited to nonviolent, non-explicit titles. Facilities will also cap the number of individual games an inmate can have in his possession.
A typewriter is a surprising inmate amenity not only because prisoners in many non-federal facilities can have one but also because such an anachronistic machine is still available for purchase—anywhere. Courts have held that inmates must be allowed access to typewriters in order to create legal documents. However, the image of an inmate in her cell, hunched over a Smith-Corona, clacking away like a ’40s newspaper reporter, is a startling one.
Many state correctional facilities allow inmates to keep small, personal televisions in their living areas. Illinois prisons, for example, permit flat screen TVs up to 15 inches in prisoner areas. The TVs sold in prison commissaries typically don’t have speakers, so inmates usually have to buy headphones to go along with the TV—or use headphones they already own.
1 MP3 Players
Beginning in 2012, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BoP, added MP3 players to commissary lists in several of its facilities. Inmates purchase songs through the inmate computer/email system at facility libraries, but do not have access to cables or chargers in their cells. Charging and syncing is done in common areas. Hundreds of thousands of songs are available for purchase on the BoP system; most are radio-friendly versions without swearing or other explicit content. Some state prison systems, like Mississippi’s, also offer MP3 players.