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What items are federal prisoners allowed to have?

The property that a prisoner is allowed to have in their cell depends on the prisoner’s gender and security level. The National Lists of Personal Property for Men/Women Inmates sets out which items prisoners are allowed to have in their cells, which are reviewed annually. If a prisoner has an authorized item that is later taken off the list, then the prisoner may be allowed to keep the item (but will likely be prevented from replacing it).

Each prisoner has an Inmate Personal Property Record, which lists the items in their cell. It is important that prisoners receive authorization for each item in their possession, since having unauthorized items (i.e. items not on the Inmate Personal Property Record or hobby craft permit) may result in institutional charges. Similarly, giving, trading, loaning, and selling property to other prisoners is prohibited and may result in disciplinary charges.

Some items are strictly prohibited, including money and credit/debit cards. Prisoners may be allowed to have non-essential health care, religious, spiritual or cultural articles, educational textbooks or supplies, and arts and crafts raw material. These are generally approved on a case by case basis.

Below are a few items that prisoners may be allowed to have (subject to certain limitations):

  • Jewellery
  • Musical instrument
  • Desk fan
  • Typewriter
  • Tupperware
  • Photos (other than polaroids)
  • Books
  • Board games
  • Prayer mat
  • Stereo, CD player, cassettes and CDs
  • Gaming system and video games
  • Television
  • Personal care items (brushes, nail clippers, tweezers, etc.)
  • Certain sports equipment (generally not in maximum security though)
  • Clothing (e.g. sweatshirts, socks, bathrobe, sweatpants, pyjamas, sunglasses, etc.)

The value of all items in a prisoner’s cell cannot exceed $1,500. Prisoners can also generally keep canteen items in their cell, but they are limited to having $90 worth (including $20 worth of stamps).

Prison staff may also restrict prisoners from having particular items if there is a fire and/or safety issue, for example if a prisoner has too much paper in their cell. Moreover, items that have have been modified or tampered with are considered unauthorized and will likely be seized.

Past performance is not indicative of future results, and outcomes will vary according to the facts of individual cases. This site is intended for information purposes only. None of the information on this site should be considered “legal advice.” Information on this website (including blog posts and answers to frequently asked questions) is the opinion of the author only and is not warrantied or guaranteed to be an exhaustive, definitive, or accurate statement of the law. The proper interpretation and application of the law must always be done on a case specific basis; therefore, you should not rely on the general information on this site as a substitute for proper legal research or the advice of a licenced lawyer.