Locked In, Priced Out: How Prison Commissary Price-Gouging Preys on The Incarcerated


The Appeal found prison prices up to five times higher than in the community and markups as high as 600 percent. 

Prison commissaries nationwide are exploitative and inconsistent in their pricing. The Appeal underwent a nine-month investigation to collect commissary prices and markups from 46 states. People in prison make pennies on the dollar for their labor, and the high cost of food, hygiene products, and religious items are more expensive than the same items in the community. Prisons across the country not only allow markups, but they profit from markups through commissions. While some states have started to limit markups, advocates say much work still needs to be done as there are few consumer protections for people in prison and their families who supplement their income.

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Key Findings:

  • While ramen costs about 35 cents at Target, prison commissaries charge between 24 cents to $1.06 nationwide. 
  • In Vermont, a pair of reading glasses cost more than $15 in prison, about five times the price a shopper would find at Walgreens.
  • Many incarcerated Muslims seem to be overcharged for religious items; Kufi caps are $3 outside of prison but average $7 in prisons.
  • Prisons in Iowa add a 6 percent “Pay for Stay” fee to most commissary items.
  • In Florida, the Department of Corrections receives a 35.6 percent commission on all marked-up items from the for-profit company Keefe Group.
Elizabeth Weill-Greenberg and Ethan Corey
The Appeal