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1 Jail Ass'n J. 9 (1939)
The Commissary Problem

handle is hein.journals/jlasj1 and id is 201 raw text is: iJ~e
By William T. Hammack
Assistant-Director U. S. Bureau  of Prisons,
Department of Justice, Washington. D. C.

Figure 8
Interior view of commissary distribution unit.

THE AVERAGE CITIZEN in the exercise
of his freedom is limited by a few restrictions
which the law imposes for the protection of the com-
munity. In the prison, however, his liberty of action is
sharply limited, and what he enjoyed as a right on the
outside becomes a privilege inside the prison.  The
kind of control exercised over these privileges is what
makes the difference between a good or bad prison ad-
ministration, and one of the most difficult privileges to
control is the use of money owned by persons serving
prison sentences.
The prisoner-owned money reaches the institution in
several different ways. It mafr be (1) in possession of
the prisoner when he arrives at the institution; (2) it
may reach the institution through the mails; and
(3) cash might be left by visitors to be placed to the
credit of the inmate. Prisoners employed in the several
industries operated by the institution frequently receive
payments according to the class and character of work
performed. In some instances remittances through the
mail represent very small sums of money from home or
relatives; sometimes they are Government checks for
soldier bonus, etc.; frequently private checks, and as
often as not postal money orders. In the Federal service
if these remittances are received from approved corre-
spondents, the inmate may use the money. If they
come from an unauthorized source instead of returning
it to the sender, the money is deposited to the credit of

Figure 9
Display counter is commissary distribution unit.

the inmate, but impounded so that he cannot use it dur-
ing the period of his sentence. At the time of his release
it is paid over to him. No matter from what source
these funds are received, they must be placed to the
credit of the individual and he should be advised as to
the amount of the collection.
Keeping Money Out a Failure
In the Federal Prison Service we first attempted to
prevent prisoners from bringing money into the institu-
tions, or having it sent to them while they were serving
sentence. These attempts were unsuccessful, and we
then undertook a study of the problem of controlling
the funds after they came into our possession. We soon
discovered that the amount of inmate funds in the pos-
session of accountable officers was greatly in excess of
current needs, and that some transactions bordering
upon irregularities were the source of much annoyance
to the Bureau. The funds were' used to make advances
to officials traveling upon Government business, and
sometimes difficulty was encountered in making the col-
lection. The interest on the money deposited in banks
was sometimes supplemented by donations from the in-
mate body and the proceeds used for the purpose of
providing special entertainment on Christmas, Fourth of
July, etc. Donations from prisoners are always of ques-
tionable nature. In any group public donations are ac-
companied by the element of force. Some persons may
be disinclined to contribute, but in the face of group
sentiment they are under compulsion to do so. It is
much worse in prison. We have known cases where the
inmate bookkeeper had passed word along as to the
amount credited to the account of a prisoner and he
would then be invited to contribute to the athletic fund,
or else? Of course it is easy to obtain such volun-
tary contributions from prisoners because they have no
Donations Discouraged
We find it much better practice to discourage all do-
nations. On more than one occasion, after the pro-
ceeds had been spent, we learned through audit of the
accounts that such entertainments involved the expen-
diture of funds for purposes which would not have been
approved by the Bureau had the matter been referred


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