Brian Chilson
The Cummins Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction

The Appeal, a nonprofit news organization focusing on criminal justice, last week published an excellent report on commissary price gouging in U.S. prisons. It includes a database of prison commissary lists from 46 states, the first of its kind, according to The Appeal.

The list reveals shocking markups versus regular prices at retail stores, including basic health and hygiene products, food and religious items. From the intro:

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Taken together, the prices reveal an exploitative, inconsistent system that requires incarcerated people to purchase many necessities at high markups.

The Appeal’s investigation reveals that incarcerated people in many states are charged significantly more for essential items than those outside prison even though they typically earn pennies an hour—or no wages at all. The Appeal found prison prices up to five times higher than in the community and markups as high as 600 percent. This financial burden, which can cost hundreds of dollars per month, is often passed onto prisoners’ loved ones.

Among their findings: In Arkansas, all food items that were “deemed healthy” were marked up by 40%, as were over-the-counter “health aids” — including reading glasses and denture adhesive. All remaining items were marked up by 50%. Gross, but not as bad as some states.

The report also found significant variation in prices across the state depending on the prison: “a package of chicken-flavored ramen sold for different prices at almost every prison canteen in the state. At one prison, the item cost 29 cents and at another 49 cents.”

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Here’s the directive from the Arkansas Department of Corrections establishing their exploitative markup policy.

Here’s the full Arkansas commissary list, with some eye-popping price-gouging.

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Check out the full report from The Appeal, the product of a nine-month investigation.