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Inflation Price Increases On Popular Items Are Hitting Inmates Hard

When the price of a can of Maxwell House coffee increased 34 cents over a year ago at New Jersey State Prison commissary, Shakeil Price and many others in his unit had to cut back. At Pennsylvania's Coal Township prison, Richard Mercaldo said the staple items he buys to hold him over between the prison’s scheduled meals, such as packages of ramen noodles and cookies, are getting smaller and more expensive. At Logan Correctional Center in Illinois, Erika Ray said the $150 she budgets each month for food and hygiene items no longer covers her basic needs, the Marshall Project reports. The rising cost of groceries and other goods due to historic inflation has jolted shoppers everywhere. Grocery prices increased by 8.4% in the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In many state prisons, incarcerated people saw even steeper price hikes. The Marshall Project requested commissary prices from all 50 state corrections departments to understand the scope of inflation behind bars. Twenty-six responded.


Because states contract with different suppliers, the price lists and increases vary from state to state. Overall,, prisoners are paying more now for staple items such as peanut butter, soap, coffee and toothpaste than they did a year ago. A jar of peanut butter now costs between 25% and 35% more across state prisons. Prices have soared across entire prison systems. In Pennsylvania, commissary prices increased by nearly 27%, according to an analysis by the Pennsylvania Prison Society, an advocacy organization for inmates. These increases are especially burdensome for people behind bars. Prison wages are notoriously low. Incarcerated people often rely on items purchased from commissaries when the state-issued meals and personal hygiene items fall short. People behind bars also pay an additional “tax” on these items, experts said, in the form of unregulated markups that tack on as much as 66% of the price.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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