Can You Have Glasses In Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: October 1, 2019

If you wear glasses, you know how expensive it can be to get an eye exam and a prescription. Finding the right frames at a reasonable price can be quite the task. Don’t get me started on the eyewear industry in this country!

So, if wearing glasses has its own set of challenges in the free world, what in the world is it like for inmates inside a prison? Can you see an eye doctor? How much does it cost? Can you even have glasses in prison?

In this blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • Prison rules for inmates who wear glasses
  • How does an inmate get glasses?
  • What about reading glasses for inmates?

Prison rules for inmates who wear glasses

First of all, yes you can have glasses in prison. They are required to provide you a pair of glasses if they have been prescribed to you. The courts have ruled that denying a prisoner corrective eyewear is a violation of the 8th amendment, which protects you from cruel and unusual punishment.

However, the process of seeing an eye doctor is not easy, and it can be extremely expensive. The rules, prices, and process vary depending on if the facility is a federal prison or state prison, the security level of the prison, and if it’s state-run or private. 

Generally speaking, the rules for glasses are: they can’t be valued at more than $100, they can’t be mirrored, transitional lenses are allowed only if medically necessary, no jewels, rhinestones or embellishments, and the frames must be black or brown.

Some higher-security prisons only allow plastic frames, while the lower-security facilities usually allow wire or metal. But again, the rules are different at each prison.

How does an inmate get glasses?

This is where things can get really confusing. How an inmate gets glasses is also based on the prison they are incarcerated in, so I will try to break this down to the basics.

First of all, if you are wearing glasses when you are arrested and incarcerated, you are allowed to keep them as long as they meet the prison’s specific requirements on price, material, appearance, etc… 

If you need glasses, but don’t have any with you when you are arrested―or if the pair you are wearing doesn’t meet the requirements―you can get a pair of glasses one of three ways.

First, if you have the money, you can get an appointment with an eye doctor and order a pair of “state glasses” from a few limited choices. This process takes absolutely forever, so you can go months without glasses, even if you really need them. 

Second, if your indigent and can’t afford an appointment or to buy a pair, the state will provide you a pair of “state glasses.” These glasses are a running joke in prison because they are so ugly. They are cheap, thick, plastic, and unisex. When I was locked up, the state glasses were called “ChoMo 3000s” because they looked like something a child molestor would wear. 

Finally, some prisons allow you to have your family send you a pair of glasses, as long as they meet the requirements. Or, if you have the money, you can order them from a website. The catch with that option is that you don’t have internet access as a prison inmate. So, you will have to figure out a way to send the money to a friend or family member and have them order them for you.

When it comes to replacing a pair of glasses that have broken while you are incarcerated, the rules are the same. You can either see the eye doctor and order frames through the state (or have them given to you if you can’t afford a new pair), or you can have your family send you a new pair.

What about reading glasses for inmates?

Reading is one of the best ways to pass the time when you are locked up, but what do you do if you have trouble reading and need glasses? Because you don’t need a prescription for reading glasses, some prisons do sell them at the commissary

If that isn’t an option, then an inmate will have to have their friends or family send them a pair in the mail. But, if they don’t have anyone to send them a pair of reading glasses, it’s possible to get them after seeing an eye doctor, but that process can take forever, and it can be expensive. 

Of course, there are ways to hustle your way to a pair of reading glasses. You can buy them from another inmate, or someone might give you their pair of reading glasses when they are being released. Prisoners are very creative when it comes to getting what they need behind bars. 

Are you surprised that the process to get glasses in prison is so difficult? Let us know in the comments below.


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  • You are so wonderful, thank you for creating these articles. I can identify with Natalie, because I recently graduated from KU, as she did.

    One of my parents was arrested. I am grateful to you for explaining things like this.

    I hope you are doing well. Thank you for what you do.

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