Bitcoin Behind Bars: The Practical Use Case of Blockchain Deployment for Prison Commissaries
Typical Prison Commissary Food

Bitcoin Behind Bars: The Practical Use Case of Blockchain Deployment for Prison Commissaries

By bettercallpaul | Better Call Paul | 8 Mar 2020

Use Case Ideas - Prison Commissary Purchases and Inmate Accounts


W. Paul Alexander


Credit:  Getty Images

Bitcoin Behind Bars

We all know that mass adoption of Blockchain technology is right around the bend.  From cash alternatives to settlement projects to worldwide money transfer services to online notarizing of document, we can see all of the potential use cases all around us.  

There are projects that surround electric power generation, the distribution of disaster relief supplies and funds, streamlined money transfers between fiats, universal in-game/in-app currencies, and many other use cases that seem likely to succeed.  

However, what most "normies" complain about when initially brought into the world of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is that most projects are lacking a defined, real-world use case that makes using it preferable to the current method. 

Although I have been in the CryptoVerse since 2014, I have never read a whitepaper that proposes what I am proposing here today -- mostly because people could care less about the day-to-day lives of prisoners combined with a healthy dose of FUD.  

As a criminal defense/appeals paralegal, I am intimately familiar with the administration of prisons -- in fact, I am part of a group that spends a good portion of our professional focus on changing the conditions inside of prisons, because I simply believe that the idea of warehousing inmates is a terribly failed experiment that we should turn away from and run as fast as we can towards the principles of rehabilitation.  

Improving the inmate financial account system takes a huge leap towards reforming the way things are done inside. 


Inmate Worker Stocking Commissary Shelves

The Problem: 

1.  Loading money onto inmate accounts requires multiple steps for the sender, prison administration, and staff.  

2.  The transaction fees associated with adding funds to an inmate account are insanely high. 

Details:  Let's assume that an inmate named John has asked his parents to load money onto his inmate account.  Mom agrees to send him $50.00 USD.  She calls the prison and finds out that, in order to send the money, she has to either use their automated system, which charges her $8.95 to send $50.00; or she can go to Wal-Mart and use MoneyGram services to complete the transfer, which has a slightly lower fee of $5.95.  

When John receives his money, an additional 25% is deducted automatically.  

This is Absolutely Ridiculous.  

First, his mother would have to use a credit card, send that money to the facility, at which time it is digitally converted and transferred to John's inmate account, which is linked to his inmate ID card.  


Bill Cosby meets Commissary List

The Solution:  Devise a new cryptocurrency asset that can eliminate the steps required for John to receive his funds and for mom to save on transaction fees. 

Option 1:  Use an already existing token/asset that exists to provide a vehicle for the movement of funds from fiat to digital to fiat again.  Ripple is a good choice here but maybe not for the inmate side of the equation.  However, it would be better to use a stablecoin since prices on the prison commissaries are denominated in USD.  

Option 2: Create a new project from the ground up that has the sole purpose of solving the above problem.  It would need to be a stablecoin in order to be a viable project.  

How It Would Work: 

Well, that's simple, really.  Each inmate would get a new inmate ID card, but instead of being linked to a USD-denominated holding account, it would contain a wallet account.  On the other side, the person sending the funds would do so with an app that would immediately convert their USD load into the new asset and it would be immediately transferred to the inmate's wallet. 

Then, the inmate gets a hankerin' for a Big Texas Honey Bun.  At the inmate commissary, he would swipe the card or scan a QR code at the POS terminal, where the amount of the new token equivalent to the cost of the item being purchased would immediately be withdrawn from the account and verified on the network.  

How could such a system be deployed without interrupting service to the inmates during the transition? 

Well, that's pretty simple, too.  Generally, whenever a company does a complete transition from one computerized system to the next, there is a transition period where things get hectic.  

Here, we would eliminate that problem by developing the project, the GUI for sending funds, POS system, and inmate wallet cards well before the implementation date of the project.  We would extensively bug test the system to see if we could cause it to break, and wherever we run into problems, have our developers fix it right then and there.  

Then, we would push for a pilot program where one or two facilities agree to test the system in real-world conditions to see if it is viable.  During the pilot phase, we would listen to inmates, officers, staff, and senders on the outside to see what they would prefer we change and make any changes that are do-able.  

Then, so long as the pilot program was successful, we would begin the process of scaling the project up to be implemented into every prison within a jurisdiction.  

What About Financial Backing?  

Well, we'd likely crowdsource our funding so as to not be beholden to a single large VC firm.  We would create a separate, fungible token for investors that would be traded on crypto exchanges.  This would contribute to the financial health of our operation.  A portion of our funding would go towards building our USD reserve fund, as would the US dollars that are deposited by family members and friends of the inmates.  


This is a common Federal prison commissary order form. 

How Likely is This Project to Become a Reality? 

I'd say its very high.  I have already taken the steps to secure a federal Tax ID for the project and will be spending the next couple of weeks creating an LLC as a holding company.  The next step is to present the idea to others in the cryptosphere, which is what I am doing now.  

To that end, anyone who reads this that would be interested in joining with me to make this a reality, send me an email at with the subject line "Publish0x Article Response."  Also, please indicate if you are a potential investor, developer, or are just interested in the project generally speaking.  

The fact is -- prison has the potential to affect everyone, regardless of station in life.  Family members and close friends can end up behind bars through absolutely zero fault of your own.  My brother just so happens to be one of those family members, and the costs associated with keeping him comfortable in there has completely drained my mom of all of her savings -- much of that spent on fees.  

Thus, a project like this literally has the potential to change millions of lives across the United States and the rest of the world as a whole -- just by saving them from the fees associated with sending money to prisoners.  

Look, let's face it -- the current model sucks.  Plain and simple.  We can do better, and we must do better.  

Thanks for reading.  





Winner of the Publish0x 100K writing contest, I am a seasoned freelance creative writer with over a decade of writing and journalism experience. I love to write, cook, and learn new things. I look forward to contributing relevant content.

Better Call Paul
Better Call Paul

A multi-topic blog focusing on legal and technology topics. All published content is intellectual property and copyright protected under federal laws. Copyright is held by the author, W. Paul Alexander.

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