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.