Earning Money on the Outside, When You're in Prison

Let’s say I’m in prison for a non-violent crime (e.g., a drug offense), and thus I don’t owe any restitution to any victims. I have other sources of income besides a job; e.g., stock dividends, residuals from book sales, whatever.

While I’m in prison, what happens to my earnings? Does the state confiscate it for room & board? Does it go to my prison comissary account? Does it just go into my regular, outside bank account & build up for me until I’m out?

Usually any money you make through interest/dividends stays yours and goes where it would go if you were not in prison.

If your sentence included a fine, the gov’t could sieze your assets if you do not pay.

If you have significant assets, and your actions constitute a tort as well as a crime, then your victim(s) might sue you to collect damages. (But not every crime is a tort: for example, driving without a license and while intoxicated is not a tort unless you cause personal injury or property damage).

In my state, the state doesn’t charge prisoners room and board (although there have been some ideas floated out there to begin doing so).

Generally speaking, before an inmate begins his term, if he has affairs to manage on the outside, he’ll give someone power of attorney so that the accounts, etc., can continue to be managed. Money can then be sent to him for use at the prison commissary, etc. But, no, the mere fact that one is incarcerated doesn’t enable to state to seize the inmate’s assets.

By the way, although it’s outside what you’re asking, there are “prison consultants” who can be hired by a convicted person to assist with the transition to prison. In addition to handling the mundane (such as explaining how to handle money), they also provide coaching on how to handle yourself on the inside.

One interesting thing that is happening more and more is victim’s families are now suing the criminal in civil courts and then they get a judgement against them for any earnings.

I read about Jeffrey Dahmer, he was getting a quarter a day (or some small figure like that), and normally inmates can use this wage to buy things like coffee and cigarettes. But his victims sued and attached his quarter a day so he got no money inside and had to have his father send him cigarettes.

In New York the only restriction on a prisoner having an outside income is that the income cannot be based on any crimes he committed. And I believe this includes any income he derives from being famous for his crimes. So you can’t collect royalties for writing a book about your crime or selling your autograph. But if you own stock or a business, you can collect income and receive it in prison if you want.

NY’s first “Son of Sam” law was overturned, and it now has a modified version in place which does allow for some earnings.

Another NY precedent involved serial killer Arthur Shawcross. Shawcross is a painter and he was selling his paintings for large sums of money. They didn’t depict dead women so nobody could claim they were a direct product of his crimes. But it was felt that the notoriety of the artist was the reason most people were buying the paintings rather than any inherent quality of the art.