Economically, how can drugs be cheaper in jail than on the streets

How is that possible? I thought the more risk and the smaller the supply, the higher the prices. Getting drugs into a prison should require more risk than getting them into a country, and there should be a bigger supply in the street.

Is it just that demand in prison is so intense and smuggling has gotten so good that prices have bottomed out? I don’t understand how drugs in prison could be cheaper than on the streets.

It may be just a function of “what the traffic will bear.” People in jail usually have extremely limited resources, so if you charge too much the number of customers who can afford to pay it will be reduced. If you charge less, you have more customers, and may be able to make it up on volume (as long as the price doesn’t dip below your cost).

Out on the street your customers have more opportunity to earn or steal what you want to charge; inside, there are far fewer options. It’s the same as any other line of business: a store that prices itself out of the market goes out of business.

I hadn’t thought of that, that is a valid point.

At the same time, if there is a huge risk of importing drugs into a jail or prison, and the inmates have no money, what is the incentive to sell drugs there? Why not just sell them on the street instead where the risk is lower and the customers have more assets?

Man, it’s a freakin’ TV-show! Do you trust it to be factual?

No more than I trust a message board to be factual.

Also, don’t call me ‘man’. I sexually identify as an attack helicopter.

Appy-pollo-logies then. But my opinion stands.

Here’s some informed speculation, based on my ‘insider’ experience:

Main sources for drugs in prison are either

a) prescribed by prison practitioners for what’s perceived to be a legitimate medical need, but the med gets diverted (via cheeking or other sleight of hand). Typical cost to inmate who’s diverting/supplying the drug: Zero.

b) Visitor smuggling in the drug to the inmate (happens a lot, despite cameras, searches). Typical cost to the inmate: Zero.

c) Supplied by a guard who’s been compromised in some way or another by the inmate (this happens surprisingly often). Typical cost to the inmate: Zero.

In all 3 of those scenarios, anything the inmate can get for the drug is pure profit.

I don’t think that’s it. It’s not like anyone is obligated to serve all drug users. If you’re a drug dealer and you sell your drugs for more on the street than you can in prison, then you’ll simply choose to sell all your drugs on the street.

I think the difference in price (and yes it is true in some situations that prison prices are lower than street prices) is that prisoners have better connections. Drug deals on the street involve a lot of low level transactions where one person sells to another and that person sells it to a third person and so on. By the time the drug user buys the drugs from a “friend” that drugs have been resold several times and each resale adds to the price.

But these people are at the bottom level of the drug business. If they get arrested they’re going to do minimal jail sentences if they do any time at all. And the police will encourage them to inform on higher level people in the chain. And when those higher level people are arrested, they’ll be encouraged to inform on the next level up.

So the drug dealers you see in prison are usually relatively high in the business. They are much closer to the sources of the drugs than your average street dealer is.

No, I don’t think this is true, or at least not universally so.

I’ve a relative doing time here in Kansas, and according to him, the ones who control the trafficking at his facility are themselves pretty low-level; they’re in for burglary, theft, battery, and so forth. One was serving a sentence for something like aggravated indecent solicitation of a minor, hardly a drug kingpin charge. These are people who were street dealers outside too.

The ones who were actually higher up in the drug organizations didn’t handle retail sales outside, and they don’t inside either. There may be someone more sophisticated running the import business getting the stuff brought in, but they’re not the ones dealing out on the yard or storing the goods in their locker.

In some ways, dealing inside is easier: you certainly have more opportunity to find out about your customers before you sell to them, and you know exactly where to find them if the deal goes south. The snitches are usually well-known, and your people on the outside or the guard you compromised can look up the histories on everybody. On the outside, the neighbors who are not drug users can pose a threat or keep the cops stirred up; inside, there’s a pretty fair bet that all or almost all of the neighbors are your customers too, and depending on the facility the guards may take a very laidback approach–inmates who are stoned aren’t dreaming up ways to cause trouble.

If you are in prison and willing to deal drugs, there’s this whole captive audience just waiting for your wares. They may not pay as much as you could make if you were outside, but you’re in prison too, and this is the market available.

My first thought is that cash is worth more in prison.

There’s an excellent book titled Games Criminals Play that deals entirely with this subject. You’re quite right—it is an astoundingly common occurrence. Convicts are masters at manipulating corrections workers into smuggling drugs into prison for them.

I have spent hundreds of hours in a maximum security prison talking one on one and in small groups with prisoners. What I have heard from them about drugs in prison matches the facts stated above by Qadgop the Mercotan, who has much, much more first-hand information than me or anyone else who is likely to visit this thread. The drugs come in at little or no charge.

I’m just wildly guessing here, but maybe the risk is lower in prison, as well. I assume --correct me if I’m wrong – that a prisoner who’s busted for drugs will most likely face administrative punishment within the prison, and a very small likelihood of additional charges that would increase actual prison time?

So, given that for me that there’s a big difference between being free and being in prison, but a much more minor difference between being in prison with minor privileges and being in prison without minor privileges, you might have to pay me more to deal on the outside than on the inside.

Again, I’ll let **Qadgop **or someone who actually knows something about this correct me.

In the Ohio prison system, prisoners who are caught in possession of drugs with no evidence implicating them in “importing” them do get administrative punishment, which can lengthen their stay only in the sense that it can delay parole or interfere with good behavior reductions. Those caught importing drugs are charged with conveyance and tried and sentenced for that crime while they are in prison.

Yeah, but the visitor-supplier has to pay for the drugs and bear the non-negligible risk of smuggling them in.

Somehow it seems to me that an inmate in possession of drugs is in a precarious position --if other inmates know he has drugs they might go after the drugs whether they have any money to buy them or not.

The same risk applies to dealers on the outside.

Sure, but I’d bet these visitors fall into two main and possibly overlapping categories:

  1. Family members who would be sending money for commissary instead of or in addition to the drugs anyway.

  2. Those (often girlfriends) who are being manipulated into aiding the inmate without recompense. It’s not that rare that an inmate is juggling several lady friends who are each helping to support him, or a wife AND several girlfriends. What does he care if it costs them? (From what I heard, visitors at one facility were recently entertained by the spectacle of an inmate who misjudged and had his wife and his fiancee show up on the same day, neither lady knowing about the other. All three of them had to be removed by guards.)

True, but there aren’t very many secrets in prison–word will spread quickly as to who has the drugs now and how they acquired them. Depending on the relative status of the inmates involved (gang affiliations, who’s paying protection, etc.), that could be very very bad news for somebody.

What slash2k said. Family/lovers do the damnedest things, very frequently for free.

I’ve seen filmstrips of buprenorphine underneath stamps and stickers on letters and cards to inmates more times than I can count. And I get plenty of reports of girlfriends bringing drugs in, often in their ‘pink purse’ or ‘brown purse’ and managing to retrieve them and pass them to the inmate on visits.

These folks, when caught, get arrested.

All in the name of love . . .