10 Ridiculous Prison Laws

10 Ridiculous Prison Laws

Most rules in prison are designed to keep staff and incarcerated people safe. There are a few ridiculous prison laws that don’t make a lot of sense. Some feel pretty ridiculous but have logic behind them.

1. People in prison can’t play board games anymore.

This is actually one that seems ridiculous but keeps people safe. The reason that many prisons banned board games is that COVID spreads quickly in groups. To help with social distancing, many jails and prisons got rid of board games altogether.

2. You can only have a handful of photographs.

While this ridiculous prison law is different with every facility, the reasons behind it are pretty absurd. According to some jails and prisons, having too many photographs is a fire hazard. That’s why they limit people’s spaces to five or ten photographs.

Image courtesy of JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash.

3. In Pennsylvania, you can’t even have original photographs.

That’s right. The prison system in Pennsylvania doesn’t have an approved mail sorter. This means that all prisoner mail gets sent to Florida and is scanned into a computer. Prisoners can only get digital copies of their mail. That means no original photographs or cards from loved ones.

4. Pennsylvania also banned all tobacco products.

It seems reasonable. People are in prison because they broke the law. Cigarettes are a privilege. But this is actually a ridiculous prison law. Tobacco products help incarcerated people manage things like blood pressure and ADHD. It may not be healthy, but it is effective. Getting rid of coping mechanisms can make them more restless and defiant.

5. Some prisons ban thousands of books and won’t let you send books to people in prison.

The Supreme Court is to blame for these rules. They ruled that prisons can limit reading material that poses a threat to the prison. But no one oversees checks which books prisons ban on a regular basis. That’s why you can check out Mein Kampf but not books on astrophysics. And that’s not all. Some prisons use a specific provider for books. They won’t let people in prison read anything or have books unless they come from that provider.

6. You can’t will your things to other incarcerated people.

This is another ridiculous prison law with a little logic behind it. While it’s true that you don’t need a lot of your stuff after release, leaving it to your peers can cause problems. Another person may pressure you to give them things or threaten you with violence. That’s a problem for staff and people in prison alike.

7. Prisons ban incarcerated people from altering personal items.

While the reasoning for this law makes sense, it’s too broad and staff can use it to seize some very harmless things. Obviously, changing a razor blade or toothbrush can put iall people within the prison in danger. But you also can’t carve soap or shape stones you find in the yard. This is contraband, too, even though it doesn’t hurt anyone. For some, it helps them express themselves and their feelings.

8. Incarcerated people aren’t allowed to masturbate or have intimate relationships.

On the surface, this prison law isn’t so ridiculous. If incarcerated people are in trouble and serving time, they shouldn’t get certain privileges. But many psychologists say this rule is a big problem. It’s actually counterproductive to stop people in prison from having relationships. Yes, it helps control drama and fights between people in prison. But spending years without physical touch can cause lasting mental illness.

Image courtesy of ian dooley on Unsplash.

9. Some prisons limit what hairstyles you can have.

Like schools, some prisons argue that certain hairstyles are a problem. They won’t let people in prison wear dreadlocks, for example. Staff claim it’s a hygiene issue. Still, it can go against religious freedom sometimes. And it’s a pretty ridiculous rule given other hygiene issues in jail.

10. You can’t put stickers on letters to incarcerated people.

Last but not least, there’s a law against using stickers on prisoner mail. This one feels especially ridiculous, but there’s good reason for the ban. Incarcerated people can smuggle certain drugs into the prison using stickers. It’s an easy way to try and hide things like methadone.


For more on ridiculous prison laws and what goes into the decision, check out this article on Interrogating Justice.

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