Inflation Is Hitting Black People Hard Behind Bars

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Zain Murdock
August 21, 2023

“When prices go up on the outside, they go up on the inside.” That’s what Dortell Williams was told while incarcerated in southern California. But while it’s true that inflation has recently persisted outside prisons, costs inside prisons are much worse.

Incarcerated people are allegedly “wards of the state.” But prisons don’t provide the majority of hygiene, health, and food needs. Many require prison commissaries for items like deodorant, soup, and tampons, and prices have skyrocketed.

Depending on the state, incarcerated people pay up to 80% more for soap. At a Kentucky Walmart, toothpaste is $1.38, but $3.77 in prison. Most incarcerated people have jobs but get paid pennies an hour. So while corporations break profit records, inflation and commissary markups can be life-altering.

Consequently, many incarcerated people must go into survival mode to get what they need. Their families buckle under the weight of increasingly expensive commissary essentials and phone calls. These households spend nearly $3 billion a year. 

And when this desperation to survive turns people to theft or unsafe hustles, the cycle of criminalizing poverty and incarceration continues.

The prison system is designed to make the pain of incarcerated people invisible. But we share the devastation of capitalism on both sides of the barbed wire. And our anger, hunger, and resistance are our collective power.

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