Ramen noodles are taking the place of cigarettes as the most popular form of currency among prisoners on the state level, according to a new study. However, the response isn't from the ban on tobacco products on the prison level.
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The author of the study, Michael Gibson-Light, who is a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona School of Sociology, found that inmates try to figure out ways to eat better meals now that certain prisons are defunded.
The rise of ramen as a form of currency shows the "punitive frugality," showing that the burden and cost of care is moving away from the prison systems and onto the prisoners and their families themselves, said Gibson-Light.
"Punitive frugality is not a formal prison policy, but rather an observable trend in prison administration practice in institutions throughout the country," Gibson-Light said. "Throughout the nation, we can observe prison cost-cutting and cost-shifting as well as changes in the informal economic practices of inmates," he said. "Services are cut back and many costs are passed on to inmates in an effort to respond to calls to remain both tough on crime and cost effective."
The research is part of a larger project that will investigate the lives of inmate laborers in a state prison of men. Of those men, he interviewed 60 inmates and prison staff as well as did hours of observation. The investigation lasted from may 2015 to May 2016.
"Prison staff members as well as members of the inmate population provided narratives of the history of changes in prison food -- the past few decades have seen steady decreases in the quality and quantity of inmate food," Gibson-Light said. "Prisoners are so unhappy with the quality and quantity of prison food that they receive that they have begun relying on ramen noodles -- a cheap, durable food product -- as a form of money in the underground economy," he said. "Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods."
Some of the other goods prisoners use include: clothing, chores, hygiene products, and cleaning. Ramen is also frequently used as a gambling tool for cards or football pools, according to Eureka Alerts.
Ramen is also replacing stamps and envelopes. This shows that more people are focusing on their daily lives within the prison instead of what is happening outside of it.
"What we are seeing is a collective response -- across inmate populations and security levels, across prison cliques and racial groups, and even across states -- to changes and cutbacks in prison food services," he said. This shows that we do need to make changes so that the quality of life for prisoners stays up - especially so that they can stay healthy for when they get out.
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"The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change," he said. "The use of cigarettes as money in U.S. prisons happened in American Civil War military prisons and likely far earlier. The fact that this practice has suddenly changed has potentially serious implications."