Blood From a Stone: How New York Prisons Force People To Pay For Their Own Incarceration


Interviewees spent an average of $1,249 a year on commissary items.

The prison system amplifies the lack of commissary access to basic needs and telecommunications for the most disadvantaged people in prison and drains financial resources from them and their families. As states continue to cut public spending, prisons are shifting more financial costs onto incarcerated people. Researchers interviewed 51 men previously incarcerated in the New York State Prison system to determine both the specific dollar amount and the intangible human costs of meeting basic needs in prison. This report details those first-hand accounts finding that on average, interviewees earned $0.25 per hour from prison jobs, making it hard to buy supplemental food, phone calls, clothes, and other necessities.

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Key Findings:

  • Interviewees estimated needing $175 a month to afford prison needs but made an average of $31 a month from in-prison employment.
  • 18 out of 51 interviewees received consistent support from loved ones, 22 received irregular support, and 11 received little to no support during their sentences.
  • About half of the interviewees spent more than $100 a month on phone calls.
Tommaso Bardelli, Zach Gillespie, and Thuy Linh Tu
Prison Policy Initiative