What Are Indigent Federal Prison Inmates Provided?

What Are Indigent Federal Prison Inmates Provided?

The other day a Prison Law Blog reader presented a question.  “My father is preparing to serve a sentence in a federal prison camp. He doesn’t have a lot of money or other resources.  What will the Federal Bureau of Prisons provide him for his basic needs?” Obviously, a good question.  In fact, it’s sad that the Federal Bureau of Prisons doesn’t make this sort of information available to soon-to-be inmates and their families.  Regardless, the Prison Law Blog is here to help.

What Does the Federal Bureau of Prisons Provide to Indigent Prison Inmates?

Generally speaking, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, much like most state prisons, provides indigent inmates with the basic requirements for living in prison.  Prison administrators are responsible for clothing, feeding, and providing medical care to all prisoners and usually provide recreational opportunities, religious services, psychological counseling, and limited educational opportunities to the prison inmate population under their care as well. A federal prison inmate with absolutely no resources whatsoever will not starve or freeze to death, though their existence won’t be delightful either since there won’t be many luxuries.

Clothing for Federal Prison Inmates

The Federal Bureau of Prisons provides federal prisoners with several days’ worth of clothing, including underwear, t-shirts, khaki pants, khaki shirts (both short-sleeved and long-sleeved), socks, and a winter coat.  Federal inmates are also provided two blankets and two sheets.  Depending on the local climate, long underwear, a knit hat, gloves, and other clothing or linen items might also be furnished.

Federal inmates with funds to spend can often purchase higher quality, or merely an additional quantity, of the existing clothing items.  For example, while the Federal Bureau of Prisons will furnish prisoners with socks, prisoners with funds can purchase higher-quality socks from the prison commissary.

Food for Federal Prison Inmates

Federal inmates are provided three meals a day in the prison dining room (called the “Chow Hall”). Breakfasts often consist of breakfast cake and a side of grits, oatmeal, or cereal.  At some federal prisons, inmates are also provided with an apple or other piece of fruit.  Cartons of milk are a mainstay for breakfast in prison cafeterias.  Coffee is
sometimes provided, but many federal prisons are cutting this out to help reduce food service costs.  Some federal prisons still offer “hot breakfasts.” These can consist of pancakes, biscuits and gravy, French toast, eggs, and a sausage patty.

Lunch is more diverse. Pursuant to a national prison menu, chicken — on the bone — is a prison lunch mainstay.  At many federal prisons, hamburgers are served on Wednesdays and fish on Fridays.  Other noon meals regularly consist of chili dogs, tuna, and possibly chicken patties. Artificially flavored juice and water are available for drinking.

Dinner is also diverse. Federal prisons often serve items like chili con carne, spaghetti, lasagna, tacos (regular or fish), tuna casserole, pork chops, and other items.  Artificially flavored juice and water are available as beverages.

The long and short of federal prison chow halls is that while the food isn’t gourmet, it probably won’t kill anyone or make them sick.  The food is often moderately nutritious, yet bland, but certainly life-sustaining.  Those with additional funding can purchase a plethora of food items from the prison commissary.

Hygienic Items for Federal Prison Inmates

Indigent federal prisoners are provided with basic hygienic items.  At most federal prisons, this includes two bars of soap each month (often of the hotel-sized variety), generic toothpaste, a toothbrush (either a flimsy one with a handle or one of the two-inch varieties, which must be held with finger and thumb), a few single-blade razors, and deodorant. Often these supplies are distributed on a set day each month.  For example, at FCI Petersburg, hygiene bags, which contain all of these items (plus paper and envelopes), are passed out on a specific Wednesday morning each month. If a prisoner misses this pick-up, they miss out on their hygienic supplies for the month.

Federal prison inmates who have funds in their commissary account can purchase name-brand soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toothbrushes, mouthwash, facial wash, deodorant, lotion, and an assortment of other items from the prison commissary.

Medical Care for Federal Prison Inmates

While medical care in the Federal Bureau of Prisons is by most accounts not up to community standards, it’s at least evenhanded.  Both wealthy and indigent federal prison inmates receive the same sub-par level of health care services.  If a federal prisoner is truly indigent — as defined in the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy — then they are not responsible for the $2 co-pay required for all medical and dental visits.  If they have funds in their commissary accounts, then the $2 co-pay will be automatically deducted from their commissary account.  Medical care is not denied to federal prison inmates because of an inability to pay.

With today’s budget cuts, indigent federal prisoners have very limited access to over-the-counter medications.  Unfortunately, they must rely on the Federal Bureau of Prisons to provide them with what is required.  Because the Bureau of Prisons prefers that inmates purchase such items, indigent inmates must visit medical personnel to obtain such items.  At all federal prisons, inmates can approach the pharmacy window on a specific day each month and pick up indigent bags of over-the-counter medications.  These bags usually include fiber laxatives, Ibuprofen, and other items, but nothing as expansive as what may be purchased from the prison commissary.

Recreational Opportunities for Federal Prison Inmates

Depending on the federal prison in question, recreational programming could be significant or wanting. On the minimal side, all federal prisons have televisions, and many have
TV rooms so that those without a radio can hear the TVs (the TVs in the day rooms require a radio to listen to the audio). Most federal prisons also have a recreation department, which usually includes both indoor and outdoor recreation areas.  Indoor areas generally include arts and crafts, painting, workouts, and possibly even pool table areas.  Outdoor recreation is more of a mixed bag.  Some prisons have a large recreation yard, where soccer, football, and softball fields, horseshoe pits, tennis, handball,
basketball, bocce, and volleyball courts, and a large track can be found.  Others merely have a weight pile or not even that.  Federal prison recreation departments often provide any equipment required, as such, there is no disadvantage to being indigent in this area of the prison culture and lifestyle.

Religious Services for Federal Prison Inmates

All federal prisons have a religious services department or chapel area.  This is a multi-faith area where inmates of various faiths have their services and study sessions.  All services and study sessions are free of charge.  As such, any prisoner, regardless of financial status, can engage in the formation or reformation of their spiritual self.  Most major faith groups are accounted for in available programming.

Psychological Counseling for Federal Prison Inmates

All federal prisons also have a psychology department.  Here prisoners can find Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Smart Recovery, Anger Management, Parenting, Sex Offender Treatment, and other psychological services. Much like religious services, all service offerings are free to any interested federal prison inmate.  The difference, though, is that while in the chapel or religious services department, every prisoner has a chance each week to practice their faith. When it comes to the psychology department, there are often waiting lists for therapy groups or counseling sessions.

Educational Opportunities for Federal Prison Inmates

And last, all federal prisons have an education department.  Here prison inmates can take GED courses, English-as-a-Second Language courses, Adult Continuing Education
courses, and more, all for free.  At these basic levels, federal prisoners will not be charged for their educational programming or efforts.  Funding does come into play when seeking a college or career education through correspondence.  These correspondence programs are offered through a third-party educational provider who charges for
their coursework and student services. So, while the federal prison inmate won’t have to pay the prison for these courses, they will have to compensate the institution of higher education that offers the courses.

What Do Federal Prison Inmates Truly Require?

For the most part, federal prison inmates are given what they need to survive a term of federal incarceration.  They will be fed, clothed, provided medical attention, allowed to earn a basic education, provided basic counseling services, and allowed to engage in physical fitness and religious growth activities.  Federal prison inmates are given what they need to survive.  But this isn’t the whole story.

The real question at hand concerns how much outside support is required for a federal prison inmate to have a somewhat decent quality of life.  This is a very subjective
question.  The short answer is whatever those outside of prison can offer their incarcerated loved one or friend.  Twenty dollars a month goes a long way in a federal prison’s commissary.  Fifty a month allows for commissary, telephone calls, and other luxuries.  More than that allows for a very good life in prison.

The point is that those in prison with nothing will make it through.  They won’t have a great time of it, but they will survive the experience. This is due in large part to the services provided to indigent federal prison inmates by the prison administration. But if a little assistance can be provided by those outside of prison, federal prison inmates can live a life without much want or need.  After all, it’s the little things in life that count.  A cup of instant coffee in the mornings can mean the world to a federal prison inmate.