Show Me The Money: Tracking The Companies That Have a Lock on Sending Funds to Incarcerated People


While financial technology services charge roughly 3 percent for money transfers, PPI found state prison systems charge 5 to 37 percent for online transfers.

To pay for the everyday costs of being incarcerated, family members historically sent money orders to prisons, the amounts which would be added to the recipient’s trust account one to two days later. Eventually, a vastly more expensive industry arose: correctional banking. The Prison Policy Initiative (PPI) surveyed all fifty state departments of corrections to identify which companies hold the contracts for money-transfer services and the fees to use these services.  They found three companies dominate the market, customers have few or no options for money-transfer services, and there needs to be more safeguards for customers when companies include ubiquitous fine print agreements. The results also demonstrated that fees for prison money transfers are significantly higher than regular services like Venmo. Although mailed payments are an option in most states for a low cost, the money-order process is likely deliberately elongated. The report ends with suggestions for how to improve this complicated, inconvenient, and expensive system.  

You can read the full text here.

Key Findings:

  • The average fee for a $20 transfer is 19 percent.
  • Only 22 percent of prisons allow people to choose from two or more companies for money transfers.
  • For a $20 transfer, states with multiple vendor options pay an average fee of 16 percent, whereas those in a monopoly state pay an average fee of 20 percent.
  • Family members in Kansas, Utah, and Wyoming pay 30 percent or more in fees for a $20 transfer.
  • Money order payments are generally processed within ten business days as opposed to money transfers, which take one to two business days.


  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) should use its enforcement powers to crack down on unreasonably high money-transfer fees.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should develop rules governing maximum allowable fees and which contractual terms vendors can impose on customers.
  • Prisons should refuse commissions to lower the cost of fees passed onto customers.
  • Each State’s Department of Corrections should post all applicable fees on its information page to promote transparency. 
Stephen Raher and Tiana Herring
Prison Policy Initiative