Ramen noodles have overtaken cigarettes to become the most valuable commodity in US prisons, according to a new study. Ramen noodles have supplanted the once popular cigarettes as a form of currency among state prisoners but not in response to bans on tobacco products within prison systems, the new report by Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona's school of sociology, has found.
Instead, Gibson-Light found that inmates are trying to figure out ways to better feed themselves as certain prison services are being defunded. "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," Gibson-Light said in a statement.
"Because it is cheap, tasty, and rich in calories, ramen has become so valuable that it is used to exchange for other goods," he said. Those other goods include other food items, clothing, hygiene products, and even services, such as laundry and bunk cleaning, Gibson-Light said. Others use ramen noodles as bargaining chips in gambling when playing card games or participating in football pools, he said. And ramen noodles are not merely replacing cigarettes. Gibson-Light said the same is happening with noodles replacing stamps and envelopes as forms of in-demand currency.
Gibson-Light interviewed nearly 60 inmates and prison staff members over 12 months during his study. The study was conducted at an unidentified prison, but he says other investigations show that ramen noodles are a favoured currency among inmates.
"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. About $48.5 billion was spent on corrections in the US in 2010, a 5.6 per cent decline from 2009, according to the US Bureau of Prisons. Spending has not kept up with the increase in the number of inmates, the report says.