Can You Knit In Prison?

Knitting. A hobby that generations have engaged in over generations to craft meaningful works of art, so when an inmate arrives at prison, does the craft end?

In the blog post, we will cover:

  • Knitting in prison, is it allowed?
  • How does knitting work in prison?
  • What are the benefits of knitting for prisoners?
  • Categorizing Knitting: How it fits inside prison.
  • How you can get involved.

Yes, Knitting is Allowed in Prison.

Knitting is allowed at most U.S. Correctional Facilities across the country. There are a small handful of maximum-security prisons that ban knitting due to the severity of the crimes the inmates are locked up for. Knitting in prison is actually more common than one would think; in fact, knitting classes are becoming the standard in most prisons today.

Every person that knits is able to create their own masterpiece. Some like to create gifts for loved ones, while others prefer to craft items for themselves. Common items that are made from knitting are blankets, scarves, gloves, and hats.

How Knitting got into prisons.

Inmates are able to go to knitting workshops and classes within the prison and utilize the materials and tools provided for them to create their project. There are many organizations that sponsor and promote knitting in prison, one of which being “Knitting Behind Bars”.

“Knitting Behind Bars” is an organization ran by two women, Lynn Zwerling and Shelia Rovelstad. Together they have persisted for half a decade to allow knitting in select prisons and county jails. It was a tough battle for the duo, as the majority of institutions they visited dismissed the idea outright, but due to their persistence, they finally were able to instate a knitting program.

Once the success from “Knitting Behind Bars” became public knowledge, many correctional facilities began to offer programs similar to theirs. The response by both the inmates and the public was overwhelmingly positive. Inmates were able to shift their focus towards a project of their creation, and the community was able to have an excess in clothing donations caused by the project. It was a win on both fronts.

How Knitting Works in Prison.

Knitting in prison works by having knitting classes and workshops sponsored either by third parties or by correctional facilities themselves. Inmates are provided the necessary supplies to start knitting (yarn, needles, hooks etc.) and while supervised, are able to knit.

Inmates are able to save their work for later if either they cannot finish it within the time period they are given, or they just choose to take a break and want to pick it up later. “Knitting Behind Bars” for example provides each inmate a Ziploc bag to store their work in until they choose to start again. The bags are kept with the organization and inmates only have access to them while in the knitting space.

Knitting is of high demand in prisons. The “Knitting Behind Bars” program for example has a waitlist for inmates to join, as there is simply not enough space or materials for all that are interested to partake. “Knitting Behind Bars” reported that over 500 inmates in one facility are “active members”-meaning that they have not missed a single session. They also report that there are over 50 inmates waiting for space to open up in the program.

There is an added benefit to knitting in prison that is commonly overlooked: where the products go. Most products created by the inmates are sent to family and friends as gifts, but there are some products that get donated to local shelters. Knitting is beneficial for everyone involved.

What are the Benefits for Prisoners to Knit?

Prisoners choose to knit for a variety of reasons, some choose to knit because they like to make gifts, other knit because they find it relaxing; whatever the reason, inmates enjoy the activity.

Inmates find knitting very soothing. Not only does knitting give them a space to express themselves, but it helps distract and distance them from their current situation, being in prison. The Washington Post found that most prisoners didn’t join their knitting class to purely knit, they joined because they wanted to be in an environment where they could enrich themselves with accountability and life lessons.

Former inmates that participated in knitting classes give credit to the programs for helping them secure employment once released. The vast majority also claim that the lessons learned through knitting helped them to readjust to life outside prison.

It is important to note that the benefits of knitting can be experienced by anyone, you don’t need to be in prison to feel the positive effects of knitting.

Knitting can help with:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • PTSD and Trauma
  • Nightmares and Restless sleep

This list only scratches the surface of how knitting can benefit your life, everyone that knits finds some benefit from doing it. Prisoners that have endured hardships in their lives find knitting especially helpful as a coping mechanism to deal with their past.

Knitting is starting to expand to psychiatric hospitals as well. Studies similar to The Washington Posts have found that regardless if someone is incarcerated, the benefits of knitting outweigh the costs dramatically.

How Does Knitting Fit Inside Prison?

Knitting is a workshop or class that typically occurs on a weekly basis within a correctional facility. It was previously mentioned that these workshops/classes are hosted by a third party “Knitting Behind Bars”.

Knitting can be grouped together with other art and creative classes offered at prisons due to their similar nature, and similar benefits. Knitting, along with drawing, painting and sculpting have been scientifically proven to improve an individual’s mental health. It has also been proven to reduce violence and to replace violence with positive character traits.

The supplies for knitting are dependent on donors, non-profits, third party organizations, and the correctional facility to provide. In most cases, non-profits and donors have been the primary source for the supplies/funds for knitting. Organizations similar to “Knitting Behind Bars” can be found across the United States, all centered around the same goal: to encourage knitting within correctional facilities. Such organizations depend on donors to keep their operation running.

Knitting in prison took America by storm when the stories began to break, people were in love with the idea and wanted to find ways to help. Donations from across the country poured into non-profits to help fund this new project.

The heartwarming stories of prisoners knitting for charity increased donations as well, because not only is the prisoner benefiting from knitting, but their finished product goes to someone in need, it is truly a win-win scenario.

How You Can Help.

Knitting in prison is largely underfunded. Even with millions of donations there are still programs that are unable to be successful due to the lack of supplies and the lack of funds to acquire them.

If you are looking for a way to help promote knitting in prisons across the United States, look no further. Below is a list of the largest non-profits that are dedicated to incorporating knitting in correctional facilities in the United States.

The following are great non-profits to donate to:

  • The Justice Arts Coalition.
  • Arts in Prison
  • O.F.W (Reaching Out from Within)

It is important to note that any donation provided to these non-profits helps fund more than just knitting; it helps fund countless art programs that can be found in all sorts of facilities.

There many more non-profit organizations then those listed above, each one doing important work for prisoners.


Can prisoners bring musical instruments inside?

Certain individuals that have shown good behavior and have not gotten in any trouble while locked up may choose from the following instruments to bring to prison: a guitar, harmonica, flute, or recorder.

Every institution is different, so it is important to read up on specific policies regarding what privileges the prison grants to inmates showing good behavior.

Do inmates receive money once they leave prison?

Yes. They money an inmate will receive is called “gate money”. Inmates can expect to receive a minimum of $50.00 in gate money. It is also common practice to provide inmates with a bus or train ticket to a location of their choice. In certain circumstances where an inmate is released with no money, the state may provide a loan to the ex-con that is to be repaid. This loan typically is used for housing, food, and transportation. The standard time for repayment is 180 days.

Every state varies in how much inmates receive when they leave prison, here are a few examples:

California: $200.00 gate money (with at least six months served)

New York: $40.00 gate money and a ticket to their county of conviction

Kansas: Clothing and $100.00 gate money.

This data is from the individual state’s corrections website.

Thanks for reading! Do you knit? Trying to learn? Let us know in the comments what you think about knitting!


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