Are Guitars Allowed In Prison?

We all watched numerous movies showing life of prisoners. Usually you see a prisoner reading a book, or working in the GYM. Some even show prisoners painting, and even playing some instruments like harmonica or guitar.

But is it allowed to have guitar in prison? Or, at this point, any musical instrument?

Guitars are generally allowed in federal prisons in US. of course, under certain conditions and regulations. However, state prisons mostly don’t allow prisoners to play any instrument. That’s because state prisons are usually filled with prisoners accused of doing more serious crimes. Murders, rapes, kidnapping and similar.

As it’s been said, federal prisons allow you to play guitar, but under certain conditions and regulations.

Prisoners Experiences

Majority of former prisoners report the same. They were allowed to play guitar in prison.

However, inmates are not allowed to play it in their cell. That’s due to safety reasons. Strings can be used as a suicide tool. Also, strings can be used to commit murder.

Usually, prison facilities have an instrument room with various instruments inside. It is usually sound proofed.

Sometimes, prisons are having an annual show, directed by a group of prisoners. Usually that means that prisoners can organize a concert for their colleagues.

Some former inmates report that they’ve been allowed to play their guitars in cells, for the sake of practice for an upcoming concert, or show.

If You’re Not Sure, Call The Prison and Ask

As it’s been said, every federal prison is slightly different. If you’re going to do your time soon, it is best to just call the prison and ask them if guitars are allowed.

What Does The US Law Say?

Let’s see what Federal Bureau of Prisons says about this.

You can visit official government Federal Bureau of Prisons site, here. On that site, there’s a page with list of documents showing Policy and Forms.

When you click on Inmate and Custody Management Policy, you see a list of documents about various inmates rights. By looking through the list, there’s a PDF document about the inmate Recreation Programs.

Let’s see what this document says about having instruments in prison.

Electronic and Electric Instruments

1.Do all musical instruments (electrical and nonelectrical)need to be eliminated?

No. This policy only prohibits the use of funds to purchase, maintain or repair electric and electronic musical instruments. Acoustic guitars, drums, horns, etc. are acceptable to purchase and maintain in the institution.

2.May inmates use their own money to buy electric or electronic instruments as personal property?


3.a.May recreation staff purchase or repair microphones and amplifiers?


b.May repairs be made to PA systems?


4.Are electronic instruments limited to keyboards, electric guitars, etc., or do they include amplifiers, speakers,microphones, patch cords, tape players and record players?

Electronic and electric musical instruments are keyboards,electric guitars and any other electric instrument that produces music. Speakers, microphones, tape players and record players are not considered electric musical instruments and they may be repaired and purchased.

5.May recreation staff purchase acoustic guitars, percussion instruments, etc.?


6.a.May recreation staff purchase guitar strings for electric guitars? No.

b.May recreation staff use guitar strings that were already on hand prior to Fiscal Year 1996?


7.When do we get rid of the electrical guitars? When the body breaks or when the strings breaks?

The guitar should be removed whenever the body or the guitar strings break.

8.What do we do with musical instruments that cannot be repaired (with appropriated funds)?

Since electronic musical instruments can not be repaired by recreation, the instruments may be donated to the religious services departments if the electronic musical instruments are used as part of the religious service. Staff should follow property management procedures for disposal of excess property.

9.Is it acceptable to purchase woodwinds and supplies (reeds,etc.)?


10.Are Karoke machines considered electrical musical instruments? Institutions should use or purchase basic Karoke machines without expensive visual components.

Source – Recreation Programs :

15. MUSIC ACTIVITIES. Recreation staff will provide music instruments; however, no electric or electronic musical instrument may be purchased. Existing electric or electronic musical instruments that break may not be repaired. This equipment may be given to Religious Services if it is needed to provide music for religious services. If not, this equipment should be disposed of through normal excess property procedure. (see Attachment A)

An inmate may not purchase or have sent in any personal musical instruments, except for a harmonica.

Source – Recreation Programs :

As you can see, musical instruments are allowed in prison. Of course, there are restrictions. You can’t buy electric or electronic instruments for example.

Difference Between State And Federal Prisons

As we pointed out at the beginning, there’s a difference between state and federal prison rules.

The law, described above, applies only on federal prisons. State prisons are different. In state prisons, inmates are usually convicted of harder crimes. Such as rape, murder, kidnapping and so on.

Federal prisons are filled, mostly, with people serving shorter sentences. Those includes some financial frauds, robberies, thefts and so on. In those prisons, inmates have a greater freedom. That includes having a musical instrument.

It’s kind of obvious. It would be too much of a risk to allow some murderers to go outside their cells and play guitars. It is a risk, because instruments may be used for suicide (guitar strings), or as an attacking tool.

Final Words

I hope this article provide you some valuable information and insights about this issue.

Don’t forget to check other interesting articles about various guitar topics and issues!

Cheers, and rock on!

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