Mississippi prison commissaries charge too much, lawyer says

Marshall Fisher
Marshall Fisher
Marshall Fisher

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A 12-ounce box of cereal that costs $1.67 for 20 ounces at a discount store will cost an inmate $4.80 in the prison commissary, which is punishment for the families, an Oxford attorney said of the excessive charges.

Prison commissary prices for many items like snacks and shampoo are four times or more the prices at Jackson-area discount stores, The Clarion-Ledger reports.

“I’m all for punishment; however, that’s punishing the families,” said Oxford lawyer Christi McCoy, who represents some of these families.

Over the past three years, private companies have taken in more than $32 million from inmates and their families from commissary sales and telephone calls, the state pocketing nearly a fourth of that.

There’s a cost to packaging and delivering items, Corrections Commissioner Marshall Fisher said, adding that the vast majority of commissary prices have dropped substantially. A package of ramen noodles dropped from 59 cents to 50 cents, he said.

With each deposit to an inmate’s commissary account, $7 is automatically deducted.

The Corrections Department has no figures on how much private companies have made over the past three years from these charges, but the department received $221,000 from just these charges.

Inmates are barred from receiving food, snacks, televisions and similar items from their families. Instead, they must purchase these items through the commissary inside each prison.

Over the past three years, Lisa Moore of Madison said she has spent $12,000 for commissary items for her son, who’s serving 50 years at the East Mississippi Correctional Facility for burglary. “I work an extra job, just to take care of it,” Moore said.

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