Why is it so expensive to send a care package to someone in jail?

I sent a care package to my sister who is in jail. You have to do it through the company that runs the jail’s commissary. Not only do they charge significantly more than retail for the contents, but there is also an $8 service charge. Why is it so expensive?

Maybe to discourage the practice, because everything has to be thoroughly inspected?

Because they can. They are a monopoly and they charge like one. This is the same reason at our local lock up phone calls out cost w-a-y more. One phone company bid and got the job and they charge like it.

I imagine it has to be scanned or x-rayed and searched.

Because something as harmless as a toothbrush has in the past been turned into a weapon. Other innocent things can have chemicals which can be used by substance abusers - or to make a bomb.

Basically all sorts of everyday stuff out in the real world can be used by prisoners to cause trouble. And society feels that the prisoners should pay for these things and that includes ALL costs (inspections, etc.).

I agree with that principle, however these services have been privatized in a monopolistic manner increasing the price. As much as I consider that prisoners have to pay for their cost to society it should not be an inflated cost, and should not profit anyone.

But what the OP describes is not that he is sending stuff from the outside to his sister, but that he is ordering stuff from the jail commissary for her. In other words, whatever is being sent to her has already been cleared.

And someone mentioned the crazy cost of prison phone calls. This story from NPR mentions that for one family it costs $13 for a fifteen minute phone call.

Many years ago a condemned prisoner in San Quentin made a primitive pipe bomb from a deck of playing cards and a piece of the metal frame of his cot. He literally blew himself to bits. Where he got the cards I don’t know.

What playing cards might contribute to making a bomb, I don’t know.

Are you sure that wasn’t an episode of “The A-Team”?


Technically, what he made was as steam-powered pipe gun.

It’s a profit-making ventures, and usually two (or more) separate entities* have to make a profit, and anyway it’s a monopoly so they can charge whatever the market will bear.

The private company doing the work has their profit margin, and then the jail is earning a commission on the sales. I don’t know about the commissary market, but for jail telephone service, commissions in the range of 50% are not exactly unknown. For example, one recent Kansas Dept of Corrections telephone contract charged 18 cents a minute–about ten cents went to the company, who paid all of the costs for installing/maintaining phones, recording calls, customer service, etc., and about eight cents went to the state, where it was essentially booked as general revenue and available to pay expenses that would otherwise have to be funded from legislative appropriations (taxes).

The ink was made with red phosphorus.

But it came with a free Frogurt.

Considering he wasn’t judged insane, with the hand dealt to him he went out with a full deck.

Ever go to a grocery store in a poor neighborhood? You’ll be surprised to see that prices are often higher than they are at a grocery store in a wealthy neighborhood. You’d think that somehow poor people should be getting charged less than rich people but it doesn’t work out that way.

Operating a store costs a certain amount of money regardless of how good business is. You have to pay for land and a building, buy cash registers and carts, pay employees and utility bills, and stock inventory. Let’s say a store’s operating expenses are $10,000 a month.

Poor people obviously have less money than rich people so they spend less. So a poor family might buy $300 worth of groceries in a month while a rich family might buy $600 worth. But the store has to get their $10,000 a month either way. So if they serve poor customers they have to mark up their prices for twice as high a percentage of profit; a rich neighborhood store might set its prices at ten percent above its wholesale costs while a poor neighborhood store might set its prices at twenty percent. They’re not targeting poor customers; they’re just charging what they have to charge to keep the store open.

But what if they decided to target customers? If poor people pay twenty percent why not charge twenty percent in the rich neighborhood stores as well? The answer is competition. The rich neighborhoods attract more businesses so there are going to be multiple competing grocery stores serving the same neighborhood. If any of them tried to raise their prices, they’d lose their business to the competition. So they have to keep their prices down to compete.

It doesn’t work the same way in poor neighborhoods. Most supermarket chains would prefer to spend their money building stores in rich neighborhoods so poor neighborhoods don’t attract multiple stores (in fact, the reality is many poor neighborhoods don’t have any good grocery stores). And even if there were multiple stores, there’d be no competition to undercut prices. A store that tried to set its prices at ten percent instead of twenty would fall below the amount it needed to stay in business.

And this, in a roundabout way, explains why it costs so much to send a care package to somebody in jail. Jails are essentially a really poor neighborhood. Businesses don’t sell a lot of products to prisoners so they have to charge a high markup in order to cover their operating expenses.

On a tangential note…

People talk about ‘care packages’. I wonder how many people know the origin of the term?

CARE package

This happened on October 9, 1930, in Cell No. 1651. The inmate was William Kogut, convicted of killing a woman with a pocket knife.
He tore the red spots out of the diamond and heart cards. He soaked them in water. He knew that they contained an element of tri-nitro cellulose, a powerful explosive. After stuffing the mess into the piece of tubing, He tamped one end shut with a broom handle. He then held the other end close to an oil-burning heater and positioned his head close to the device–and waited. A violent explosion ensued, and the walls of Cell No. 1651 were dripping with blood.