New book details Canadian, U.S. prison money

After more than two years of research, writing and editing, U.S.-based numismatists Bob Hewey and Jim Delaney have published a nearly 400-page catalogue on Canadian and U.S. prison money.

Available online for free (and in full colour), Prison Tokens, Coupons and Scrip of the United States and Canada is published on the Newman Numismatic Portal by the Washington University libraries in St. Louis, Miss.

Prisons, jails and reformatories typically prohibit prisoners from holding legal-tender money to limit bribery, extortion, escape plans, gambling and the acquisition of contraband; however, “there needs to be some type of money so that inmates can purchase discretionary items, such as snacks, tobacco, toiletries and reading and writing supplies,” according to the authors’ foreword.

The 400-page catalogue focuses on the tokens, coupons and scrip issued in Canadian and U.S. prisons to address various problems, including bribery, extortion, escape plans, gambling and the acquisition of contraband.

“The first widely used alternative currency in prisons and jails were tokens. While these reduced the chance of bribery of correction officers and hindered escape, they did not eliminate their use for gambling, contraband and extortion,” adds the book’s foreword.

“To counter this, institutions would put limits on the value of such tokens that the inmate could draw from an account or have in his or her possession. Other than tokens, coupons issued in booklets or attached as tear-offs to cards, punch cards and credit slips have been used in prisons to address the purchasing needs of the inmates. Now, as with the transportation industry, I’m sure that electronic cards have come into use, replacing other forms of scrip. But the scrip currency of our penal institutions makes an interesting and challenging field for collection.”

To view the catalogue, visit nnp.wustl.edu/library/book/589917.

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