Use the calculator below to see how much these items would cost you if you were paid at the same rate as an incarcerated worker and had to purchase them from canteen.
Behind the numbers
Prisoners often supplement inadequate food and sanitary products with canteen purchases from their wages. They must purchase these items from a single vendor, which contracts with the DOC to provide canteen service. Though the contract is currently with Union Supply, Milwaukee IWOC’s closely examined the contract with the DOC’s previous canteen vendor Keefe in this report from March 2019.
Canteen is a near-constant issue in the Wisconsin DOC, and it is not only those inside who are affected. In addition to paying for phone and email service, friends and family outside must also purchase items through this vendor at prices that are often higher than they would pay if shopping for themselves. Any care packages or goods that loved ones would like to send to people in prison must be purchased through these vendors.
All the canteen prices listed here were taken from the most recent price list available dated October 15, 2021. This is just a representative sample of items commonly purchased, not an exhaustive list of products.
We have also included the cost of medical treatment. While some medical care is paid for by the institution, any request by a prisoner to seek medical treatment without a referral results in a $7.50 co-pay per DOC policy.
Incarcerated workers earn one of 7 hourly wages depending on their job, ranging from $0.05/hr (for “unnassigned” prisoners) to $0.42/hr.
We have taken the wages directly from the current DOC policy governing prison labor in the Wisconsin DOC. They do not include wages for Badger State Industries. Per DOC 309.55(5)(a) “Each institution shall rank its work assignments on a scale of one to 5 based on the level of skill and responsibility required by each assignment. Range 5 shall include work assignments requiring the most skill and responsibility and range one shall include work assignments requiring the least.”
Since each prison is responsible for ranking its own work assignments, the same job may pay different wages at different prisons. We are hoping to update this page with more information about other work performed by prisoners and the wages they are paid throughout the DOC as it becomes available.
One of our contacts reported working 40 hours/week as a Lead Machinist in the highest wage bracket of $0.42/hr. His duties include:
Fabricating/repairing parts and equipment.
Designing/planning parts for fabrication and or repair.
Ordering required tools and materials.
Milling, turning, and fabrication operations.
Maintain a delicate balance being an inmate/coworker in a prison environment with other inmates and institution staff.
Meticulously follow all institutional rules, policies and procedures or risk losing my inmate worker position, housing, and liberties.
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a Lead Machinist is $58,901, which at 40 hours a week amounts to around $28/hr. This is just one example of the jobs done by incarcerated workers. They also work as dishwashers, cooks, cleaners, clerks, and in many other jobs around the prison.
Outside/inside wage ratio is calculated by dividing the wage entered by the selected wage of an incarcerated worker. We then multiply this ratio by the items selected to give the equivalent cost to you if you were paid at your present wage and forced to purchase these common items through canteen.
Hours of prison labor required to purchase the item is calculated by dividing the real canteen cost (the listed price) by the prison wage selected, though it is worth noting that in many cases money is withheld from each paycheck.