Proposed bill seeks to cap prices at prison convenience stores
Sen. Terrell McKinney's LB880 would restrict prison convenience stores from marking up prices by more than 10%.
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Sen. Terrell McKinney of Omaha wants to put a cap on what prison convenience stores can charge for goods.
“Despite the fact that incarcerated individuals have extremely low wages, prison stores make it a lucrative business,” McKinney said.
Working inmates in Nebraska corrections facilities are paid between $1.21 and $4.72 per day depending on what type of job they hold.
McKinney notes that food, beverages and other snacks in prison stores, often referred to as commissaries, are marked up 35 to 40%.
His proposed bill, LB880 would cap that at 10%.
Any goods sold in a commissary within a county jail shall not be marked up more than ten percent over the cost to purchase such goods.
“Incarceration shouldn’t be a big business,” McKinney said. “We must humanize those incarcerated, because one wrong decision, and that could all be us.”
Revenue from commissaries go to the Inmate Welfare Fund, which is used to provide recreational activities and equipment for inmates.
“The difference between what they buy deodorant for and sell deodorant for goes into a cash fund where they buy weights and basketballs and things like that,” Sen. Steve Lathrop said.
Scott Frakes, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, argues that capping the price of convenience items could result in drastically decreased revenues.
“With a 10% cap, our current $1.5 million in revenue would shrink down to about $400,000 is what we estimate, so there’d be a $1.1 million gap in funds that we’d have to distribute,” Frakes said.
Another concern that opponents of the proposed bill have is that if vendors take their products off the shelves, that would options that inmates are used to having.
“If we no longer have these products available in the past, the more we restrict inmates, the more behavioral issues tend to arise,” said Jerry Brittain, vice president of the Nebraska Fraternal Order of Police.
Supporters of the bill say affordable snacks, books, writing materials and other personal care items go a long way in helping inmates get through their sentence and eventually reacclimate to society.
“When we provide access to some of these basic personal care items, communication tools, it helps people to have a stronger and more successful reentry, when they return to our communities,” ACLU of Nebraska executive director Danielle Conrad said.
McKinney says that high markups on convenience items burden the prison population and their families, for recreational equipment that they do not have access to for three days out of the week.
“If the cost of food and soap is too much for our state and counties to bear, they should find ways to reduce the number of people in prison rather than ‘nickel and diming’ incarcerated people and their families,” McKinney said.
Inmates with less than $10 in their account are considered “indigent” and provided basic hygiene items free of charge.
Frakes estimates that more than half of the prison population is making some sort of compensation for working.