TUCSON, Aug. 23 (UPI) -- A U.S. study indicates cigarettes are being replaced as currency among state prisoners by another highly-coveted item -- instant ramen noodles.
Michael Gibson-Light, a doctoral candidate in the University of Arizona School of Sociology, said ramen noodles are on the rise as a form of currency among male inmates in U.S. state prisons due to cost-cutting measures leading to a drop in food quality and quantity.
Gibson-Light, who is due to present his study at the 111th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, said the rise of ramen has less to do with the popularity of tobacco waning and more to do with "punitive frugality," the phenomenon of prisoners and their support networks taking on more of the cost of their own care as prison budgets are slashed.
"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 researcher said he conducted interviews with about 60 prison inmates and staff members from May 2015 to May 2016, when he also observed prisoners involved in work projects.
"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."