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What Do US Prisoners Use for Currency since Smoking Is Banned?

Prisoners in the US must have a currency other than money because they are not allowed to have cash. The currency is usually a product that is easily available at commissaries which are prison stores that sell essential products. Before 2004, the currency of choice were cigarettes. But commissaries in US federal prisons stopped selling tobacco products after 2004. Smoking and possession of tobacco in prisons was banned in 2014.

Since the emergence of policies limiting and later banning the use of tobacco in prison, US prisoners now commonly use canned mackerel as currency.

Pouches of mackerel were a natural choice as currency for inmates since a single pouch costs about $1. Inmates hardly eat the fish, they use it to purchase other goods or services. Some other popular currencies in US prisons are stamps, energy bars and instant coffee. Meanwhile, the previous currency of choice, tobacco, has become a very valuable black market commodity for prisons.

More about US prisons:

  • As of 2011, the US has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with 734 people for every 100,000.

  • Nearly all prison inmates in the US are male. About 7% of inmates are female.

  • The number of African American inmates is disproportionally high in the US. As of 2011, 1 in 9 black men between the ages of 20 and 34 were believed to be in prison.

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anon991541
Post 5

The same as a 1$ bill!

dimchild
Post 4

Good question. I hope someone would care to answer.

anon991534
Post 3

@MemphisBelle:

I'll tell you the value of uneaten mackerel if you can tell me the "value" of a piece of paper that carries a federal government seal; a picture of a dead president, and the motto "This is legal tender for all debts public and private".

Money has zero intrinsic value. Whenever the public demands more money the government obliges and prints up a few trillion more bills, and then happily re-distributes them (in ways that will guarantee votes). This has never been truer than it is today. A dead mackerel has more value than our dishonest government. You'll see.

anon991533
Post 2

The value is about $1. People don't eat paper money but a one dollar bill is worth $1 and can be traded for something else. For example I have a paperback that you want to read so I sell it to you for two packages of mackerel. You read the book and I trade in the two packages of mackerel to another person who has a clean pair of socks that I want. The person who had the clean socks now has two packages of mackerel that he adds to his stash of other mackerel packages that he has and then buys a pack of black market cigarettes for five mackerel packages. The guy who gave up the cigarettes for five mackerel packages can now buy a DVD from someone else for only three of those mackerel packages, leaving him with two mackerel packages that he can save for his retirement years.

Anything can be used for money as long as everyone agrees that the object being used has a certain value. A one dollar paper bill is worth $1 because everyone agrees that a piece of paper with George Washington's picture on it, that was printed by a US mint on banknote paper, has a value of $1.

In times of extreme hyper inflation, it may take thousands of pieces of banknote paper with George Washington's picture on them in order to buy something that was worth only $1 before the inflationary period began. The value is about $1. People don't eat paper money but a one dollar bill is worth $1 and can be traded for something else. For example I have a paperback that you want to read so I sell it to you for 2 packages of mackerel. You read the book and I trade in the 2 packages of mackerel to another person who has a clean pair of socks that I want. The person who had the clean socks now has 2 packages of mackerel that he adds to his stash of other mackerel packages that he has and then buys a pack of black market cigarettes for 5 mackerel packages. The guy who gave up the cigarettes for 5 mackerel packages can now buy a DVD from someone else for only 3 of those mackerel packages leaving him with 2 mackerel packages that he can save for his retirement years.

Anything can be used for money as long as everyone agrees that the object being used has a certain value. A one dollar paper bill is worth $1 because everyone agrees that a piece of paper with George Washington's picture on it, that was printed by a US mint on banknote paper, has a value of $1.

In times of extreme hyper inflation it may take thousands of pieces of banknote paper with George Washington's picture on them in order to buy something that was worth only $1 before the inflationary period began.

MemphisBelle
Post 1

If the mackerel isn't eaten/consumed, what is the value?

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