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Prison Commissaries and Services

March 22, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Jill Barnas

Executive Summary

State prison commissaries sell items such as food, beverages, hygiene products, stationery, and clothes, and access to communication services such as postal mail and telephones to prisoners. Incarcerated individuals earn low wages while in prison, which may make purchasing items from the commissary or using communication services difficult.  In recent years, some states have passed or proposed legislation eliminating or capping the costs of phone calls and increasing minimum wage for incarcerated individuals.


  • In Missouri, an incarcerated individual has a base-pay earning of $7.50 per month ($8.50 if they have a high school diploma).
  • Product prices in commissaries are relatively similar to prices in most retail stores. However, most inmates rely on familial financial support to afford commissary items.
  • Research has shown that communication (written, verbal, and in-person) while incarcerated reduces recidivism and improves familial relationships.


  • Commissary and service costs vary between states and within states. Therefore, best practices for commissary and service costs remain undetermined. 
  • There is limited evidence that increased minimum wage while incarcerated may reduce recidivism and other recidivism factors including homelessness and substance abuse.
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