Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Business of Prison

Unless you have family or friends in prison, you are probably unaware of the market within the institutions. We (prisoners) are permitted to purchase a number of goods. These goods are either used for comfort or necessity. It is mistakenly believed that we are provided with everything we need, but this is not true. We must purchase stamps, hygiene, medical care, electronics and even some food. The problem is not that we are forced to purchase these items, the problem is that we are charged excessive rate and are not provided with the financial means to support ourselves. Our families are often burdened by our needs, as we are put in a position that required us to buy from a company that over charges on every item they sell and we are not paid enough by institutional jobs to cover expenses.
The company that provides commissary for the state of Virginia and several other states is known as Keefe. They have established contracts with the institutions that prevent us from ordering from any other source other than Keefe, as long as Keefe provides the item. Because of this, Keefe can charge as they wish, not worrying about competition, even to the point of charging nearly double normal retail prices.
Not only is Keefe 'raking it in', but those contracts I mentioned mean the state institutions receive big kickbacks from Keefe. Some extreme examples of over pricing and how we are forced into purchases:
The institution only provides us with three sets of clothing. For those of us who work institutional jobs, exercise or partake in any normal daily activities and wish to be hygienic, this means we must either purchase more clothing or wash clothes 3 times a week. Whatever choice you make, it means spending money. One plain white shirt costs $4, one pair of undershorts costs $3.50, one pair of socks costs $1.50. For anyone who has purchased any of these items from any other source, this is extremely expensive, at least for just no-name brand items. Even a 3 pack of Hanes plain white T-Shirts is only around $5 if purchased from a Department store. If you decide to wash clothes 3 times a week, you mush purchase 6oz box of tide for $2.13, which is enough for about 2 weeks worth of washings, give or take. Usually, one needs about 3 boxes per month. Now $6.39 doesn't sound like much for the month, unless you are only being paid .23cents per hour. Laundry is 1/4 of a pay check.
We are permitted to purchase a number of electronic items, including televisions, CD players, fans and electric razors. In some cases, they are necessary, in others they are a 'luxury'. Televisions are not necessary, but they do provide us with life within our cells. TVs are 13" screens and cost $200. They are a cheap brand that burn out easily. I saw the exact same TV I purchased in here for $200 in a catalog for $130... That included the shipping and handling.
Fans are needed as many institutions do not have air conditioning. They sell us an 8" cheaply made model that normally costs no more than $15 for $27. Not only is the price excessive, but they also get over on us by allowing us to have fans at some institutions and not permitting them at others. If we are transferred to a facility that does permit them, they make us get rid of the fan. Then, if we get transferred to an institution without air conditioning and we are permitted to have a fan, we have to pay to purchase a new one.
There are a number of other ways in which the prison system manipulates the rules to bleed inmates and their families. The prison system is a billion dollar industry that is taking advantage of tax-payers and operating on slave labor. They claim they need tax monies for the operation of the correction department and yet there is enough being raked in by VCE (Virginia Correctional Enterprises), the commissary and a variety of other sources to run each and every institution successfully.
Think about this: 1,500 inmates are housed here. Each inmate is required to keep $25 in a 'hold account' for release. We do not personally draw interest to this account, but how much interest does the institution draw on the nearly $40,000 they are 'holding' for us? Good questions... An even better question... Where is the money from that interest going?
Look over the institutional budget and you will see clearly fudged numbers... $1,200 for rec equipment? I can tell you now, either that was the greatest basketball in history they gave us last week or somebody's lying.
Maybe someone out there will read this and contact their representative. The State of Virginia is not alone in their violation business ethics. Prisons will only get away with these transgressions as long as they are permitted to.
Check out http://criminaljustice.change.org/petition for more information.


  1. ...i guess a pack of cigarettes must be cost two arms and a leg then. it's $7 a pack here.

  2. I know there seems to be some price gouging going on and there definitely needs to be some reform in the correctional system. Government is usually pretty inefficient at most everything they operate.

    Tossing It Out