The Marshall Project

The Hidden Cost of Incarceration

Prison costs taxpayers $80 billion a year. It costs some families everything they have.

Every month, Telita Hayes adds nearly $200 to the commissary account for her ex-husband, William Reese, who has been in the Louisiana State Penitentiary for 28 years.

Each prisoner there is given three meals a day and some personal hygiene items, like soap and toothpaste. But when Reese gets hungry between meals, or when his state-issued supplies run out, the commissary money buys him extra food and other necessities.

That is not the only way his imprisonment drains her wallet. On top of the $2,161 she has put in his commissary account so far this year, Hayes has paid $3,586 in charges for talking to him on the phone when she cannot make the hourlong drive to the prison,

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