At Least The Prison Economy Is Flourishing

We might be dealing with low inflation and even a falling cost of living, but not everyone in the United States is dealing with the same economic woes. Americans who are in prison have their own economy—one with rampant inflation, alleged price-fixing, and a fish packet-based economy.

See, in federal prisons, where smoking has been banned since 2004, the underground economy needed to find a new currency to replace packs of cigarettes. That currency? Packets of mackerel. No, really.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Mark Muntz, president of supplier Global Source, said his company unloaded about $1 million worth of mackerel to commissaries in federal penitentiaries last year, though it’s not particularly popular elsewhere.

“We’ve even tried 99-cent stores,” he said. “It never has done very well at all, regardless of the retailer, but it’s very popular in the prisons.”

Last year in Pennsylvania, some prisoners have filed grievances about the sudden and dramatic price increases of their favorite snacks.

The main beef, according to their complaint, which they mailed to the newspaper, is the cost of an Atkinson’s Chick-O-Stick, an orange-colored, crunchy peanut butter and toasted coconut candy. It previously sold for 40 cents but the price was raised to “an unbelievable $0.90 overnight,” the complaint says.

The other item specified in their complaint is the three-ounce package of Maruchan Ramen noodle soup. It sells for 18 cents in state prisons but is 95 cents in Bucks County jail, the inmates wrote. “Why and how is Keefe [Commissary Network] allowed to offer the same product, in the same region, with such a great price differential?” the complaint asks.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the results of their complaint.

Low Inflation? Not in Prison [Minyanville] (Warning: sidebar video plays when page loads)
Prison inmates complain of snack ‘scandal’ [Bucks County Courier-Times]

(Photo: Podknox)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Fabuloso says:

    “Meanwhile, in federal prisons, where smoking has been banned since 2004, the underground economy needed to find a new currency to replace packs of cigarettes. That currency? Packets of mackerel. No, really.”

    ok you got me what do they do with the fish? i hope its just to eat it right?

  2. valleygirl_18002 says:

    A message to the inmates: if you don’t like the prices, don’t go to prison.
    I’m sure the families you’ve affected by your actions would have other words for you.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      @dialmelo: And what would you have to say to these people?

    • pahncrd says:


      Many inmates are there for prohibition violation (being free) and nothing more. They certainly do not deserve the same ire as those in prison for actual violent crimes and white collar crimes.

    • jaket says:

      @dialmelo: Significantly, the USA incarcerates its citizens at a rate 5 to 10 times higher than Canada and Western Europe. That’s right: if you’re an American, you are FIVE to TEN times more likely to be sitting in jail right now than if you live in Canada.

      So, yeah, given that our prison population is GIGANTIC compared to other First World countries, and almost all of those people are getting out one day, you’d think we’d take a very keen interest in prison conditions. Like making sure prisoners don’t come out feeling like they’ve been blatantly ripped off by profiteering suppliers.

      But hey, as Americans, we’re unaccountably proud of the hyper-violent, non-rehabilitative, isn’t-rape-funny nature of our prisons. It’s certainly one of the least attractive elements of our national character.

    • 40-40-5 says:

      @dialmelo: Yeah when you’re locked up, you’re fair game for every profiteering guard in the system? “Human rights? For criminals?!” Hope an absolutist like you doesn’t get into policy-making.

  3. mbz32190 says:

    Why is Consumerist posting stories from 2008?

  4. celtlion says:

    Cause it’s fresher than ground beef from 2004 ;)

  5. Laura Northrup says:

    @ohnoes: They smell terrible when you burn them, though.

  6. admchnty says:

    WTF Consumerist? Why don’t you write how a $5 footlong cost $8 on college campuses?

    • Rylar says:

      @admchnty: Because a college student can shop off campus, and a prisoner cannot.

      While the ethics of prisons is an interesting debate, someone making a private fortune off the system is wrong no matter which side of the bars your on.

  7. Sure I could agree with you, but then we'd BOTH be wrong. says:

    Holy Mackerel!!!

  8. Lucky225 says:

    I can scan a letter I just got from a federal inmate I know that confirms this article!!!! He says when inmates ask for another inmate to do something for them they’ll say ‘come on man I’ll give you a MACK!’

  9. DD_838 says:

    They are in prison. They shouldn’t be allowed to have snacks!

  10. laughingisfree says:

    If I was in prison I rather have the option of trading fish instead of trading my arse.

  11. Trai_Dep says:

    The idea of a mackerel currency taking over for cigarettes makes no sense for me. They’re much more perishable than a recently admitted 18-year-old car thief left to stew “for his own good” by his ToughLove father.
    Well, less renewable, at any rate.

  12. TheWillow says:

    @Powerlurker: I really hope if you are ever wrongfully accused of a crime, you forego your right to remain silent and cooperate fully with all requests or questions asked of you. After all, if you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to worry about right?

  13. katia802 says:

    Hubby was a former prison guard. Let me know if you want him to contact you Hogwarts. I’m not worried about giving you my yahoo e mail on here.

  14. jaket says:

    @Powerlurker: Dude. If you’re an American, I guarantee you commit several crimes a day. If a prosecutor followed you around all day for a month, he could probably accumulate enough charges to put you away for decades.

    But in America, it’s predominantly the crimes perpetrated by poor people that get prosecuted. Funny how that works.

    We don’t have a “justice” system. At most, we have a “revenge” and “keep the underclass in line” system.