Policies with regard to financial transactions involving prison inmates differ from institution to institution and from state to state. In general, however, every prison adopts stringent policies that severely limit an inmate’s freedom to conduct financial transactions. This is for two main reasons. The first reason is because prison inmates are not trusted by the institutions incarcerating them. While one can obviously find exceptions and debate endlessly the question of who should be incarcerated and for how long, prison administrators have to follow basic policies with regard to all inmates when it comes to money. As we all know, prison walls are not a barrier to criminal conduct. Drugs are routinely smuggled into many prisons across the country by visitors and by corrupt corrections officers. Visitors in particular are screened for contraband before having access to any member of the prison population, but contraband does get through anyway. Allowing the conduct of financial transactions would facilitate the growth in an already difficult and large problem involving drug trafficking in prisons. Bartering is used, and inmates find ways to conduct transactions. Most prison gangs, like the Mexican Mafia, Black Guerrilla Family, and Aryan Brotherhood, have members on both sides of prison walls, as well as family members and associates, all of whom are routinely enlisted in facilitating not just smuggling operations but the movement of money for the benefit of incarcerated members. Allowing inmates open access to financial systems would serve, therefore, to ease the conduct of criminal activities, including money laundering.
Another reason that prison administrators maintain tight controls on inmate money transfers is to protect some inmates from extortion by other inmates and by gang members on the outside who prey upon inmates’ family members. By making it known that inmates are limited in their ability to access or move money around, authorities make it more difficult (although still common) for extortion operations to proceed.
Inmates are allowed to have accounts registered in the prison that can hold several hundred dollars. Such funds are routinely used by prisoners for the purchase of basic goods, such as toiletries, as well as postage stamps for mailing to people outside the prison. Many inmates have jobs inside the prison that pay a small salary, the work potentially providing a reprieve from the boredom of prison life while contributing money into the inmates’ accounts. Again, though, tight controls are placed on how the money is used, and prison authorities monitor transactions for indications of illicit conduct. Allowing prison inmates access to the outside banking system, however, would greatly complicate the job of prison authorities in controlling illegal activities that take place inside of prison, mainly drug trafficking and extortion.