Can You Have Nails In Prison?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: December 26, 2019

I’m not a girly girl. Growing up, I was always a bit on the tomboy side because I enjoyed (and still do) traditional “boy” things like sports, science fiction, and comic book-inspired TV shows and movies. On the flip side, I was never much into traditional girl things like dolls, makeup, and fashion.

However, I still had a few “girl” qualities, like a passion for boy bands and 90s teen melodramas, a soft spot for Rom Coms, and a solid appreciation for the wonderful experience of getting manicures and pedicures.

When I went to prison, the lack of access to makeup bothered me for a minute, but I eventually got over it. Now, I rarely wear it on the outside. However, getting nails done was a big question mark for me when I entered the Women’s Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Corrections Center. 

So, let’s get into today’s blog post: can you have nails in prison?

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

  • What are the grooming rules for inmates in prison?
  • Do inmates have access to acrylic nails and salon services?

What are the grooming rules for inmates in prison?

You might be surprised to find out that inmates are supposed to keep a normal standard of grooming while they are incarcerated. You are expected to take a shower regularly, always have hygiene products, keep your hair brushed and look nice, keep your fingernails and toenails trimmed lower than your fingertips, shave, brush your teeth, and wear deodorant.

In fact, grooming rules are so important that if you can’t afford to buy hygiene products from the canteen, the prison will issue you an indigent kit that includes soap, deodorant, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and shampoo. 

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 

“The expected results of the grooming rules are: a. Inmates will maintain appropriate standards of grooming, bathing, and clothing. b. Articles necessary to maintain personal hygiene will be provided to inmates. c. Inmates with beards will be required to wear beard coverings when working in food service or where a beard could likely result in a work injury.”

If you don’t keep yourself groomed and maintain proper hygiene, you can receive a conduct violation and be forced to shower, trim your nails, and cut your hair. That’s the punishment from the officers and administration, but what you will have to put up with from the other inmates is even worse.

Like it or not, prison is home. And for longtimers, prison really is their world. Just like you wouldn’t want someone walking through your house with muddy shoes or living in your home without showering, the inmates feel the exact same way about inmates staying properly groomed.

They don’t want smelly, nasty people in their home, whether it be in their cell or common areas. If you don’t take care of yourselfーshower, cut your nails, shave (or keep your beard trimmed), keep your hair nice and clean, use deodorantーthe other inmates will punish you, and it may get violent.

Whether you are an inmate in a state prison or federal prison, you are required to keep yourself groomed. The only exception to this is with inmates in solitary confinement or some other kind of segregation. Their access to showers and hygiene products is much more restricted.

Do inmates have access to acrylic nails and salon services?

Nails are an interesting topic in prison. According to correctional facilities, any fingernail longer than your fingertip is considered a weapon and is not allowed. This is why you are required to keep your nails cut. So no, you can’t really “have nails” in prison.

Where I was incarcerated, nail clippers were available for purchase on canteen, but they didn’t have the nail file in them. The clippers always had to be kept in their original form, meaning that if they were altered in any way they would be considered a weapon. I always had to worry about this one because I would pull the pin out of the clippers and use them to cut cigarette filters in half, so my bag of 100 turned into a bag of 200 filters for my rolled cigarettes.

Back to the subject at hand. If you couldn’t afford to buy nail clippers, you could ask your “cellie” to loan you theirs. If you really have a problem finding some to use, you can go to sick call and have a nurse cut your nails for you.

In addition to finger nails, your toenails must also stay trimmed. So, the nail clippers they sold on canteen were the larger ones made for toenails.

As for access to acrylic nails, inmates absolutely do not have that. If you go into prison with acrylics, some prisons make you pry them off or cut them off as much as you can when you are going through intake.

Some inmates do, however, have access to salon services. At WERDCC, one of the vocational programs available to inmates was cosmetology, so they basically ran their own salon on prison grounds.

In addition to getting your haircut, you could get a style, color, scalp massage, manicures, and pedicures. In order to get anything besides a haircut, you had to have good behavior with no conduct violations for at least six months. So, once or twice a year, you could get a manicure if that’s the service you choose.

This isn’t common, and I can’t imagine this is something available at men’s prisons. But, there’s always a possibility that one or two facilities do have some kind of salon for male inmates.

For women’s prisons that don’t have a cosmetology school, most have some kind of barbershop. We actually had both, as the barbershop employed inmates who already had their cosmetology license. And, at the vocational school, the services were provided by students.

As a rule, most inmates got a hair color service instead of a manicure. Inmates aren’t allowed to wear nail polish, and the manicure tools the students had access to were extremely outdated.

If you have amazing nails, don’t go to prison. Because they will disappear quickly.

Should inmates have access to salon services? Let us know in the comments below.


Federal Bureau of Prisons: Grooming
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