Prison Slang Through the Years: Common Terms Behind Bars

, Staff Writer
Updated May 5, 2021
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    prison slang words
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Are you looking to expand your vocabulary with some real-world prison lingo? Explore these categorized examples of prison slang to learn a broad selection of these types of terms.

Prison Slang for Sentence Length, Charges and Convictions

There are a lot of slang terms used to refer to an inmate's prison sentence, as well as to charges and convictions.

  • 12/12 - serving your full sentence (no parole)
  • all day - a life sentence
  • all day and a night - a life sentence without the possibility of parole
  • back door parole - dying in prison
  • beef - what a person in prison was charged with
  • bow - a life sentence
  • Buck Rogers time - a release or parole date that is very far off in the future
  • bullet - a one-year prison sentence
  • bum beef - a wrongful conviction or false accusation
  • cat nap - a short prison sentence
  • c.c. - consecutive prison sentences
  • dime - ten-year prison sentence
  • doing the Dutch - committing suicide in prison
  • kickstand - an alternate term for a life sentence
  • l-wop - life without parole
  • nickel - five-year prison sentence
  • on paper - official length of one's prison sentence
  • skid bid - a very short prison sentence
  • teardrop - a ten-year prison sentence

Slang Terms for Inmates

Inmates can be referred to by a variety of different slang terms based on their individual circumstances.

  • agitator - a prisoner who seeks to manipulate other inmates to fight with each other
  • bam bam - a prisoner who is a psychiatric patient
  • bunkie - one's cellmate
  • cellie - an alternate name for one's cellmate
  • cell warrior - an inmate who acts tough from behind bars, but is meek in face-to-face encounters
  • diaper sniper - an inmate who has been accused or convicted of child molestation
  • dotted up - tattooed prisoner
  • dump truck - a sedentary and lazy inmate who is also overweight
  • fiend - person who is addicted to something (drug fiend, sex fiend, etc.)
  • fish - new inmates at a men's prison
  • fresh meat - new inmates arriving at the prison
  • frequent flyer - someone who is repeatedly in and out of prison
  • jit/jitterbug - big-mouthed gossipy inmate who causes trouble
  • June bug - a weak prisoner under the control of other prisoners
  • lame duck - a weaker prisoner on their own
  • new booties - people who are in prison for the very first time
  • o.g. - original gangsta (gangster); used for inmates who've been inside for a long time
  • slugs - inmates who barely leave their cells

Prison Facility Slang Terms

There are distinct slang terms for certain areas within a prison.

  • bean slot - place in a cell door that food trays are passed through
  • cage - an individual prison cell
  • chronic - unit within a prison that houses inmates with chronic discipline problems
  • ding wing - psychiatric ward of a prison
  • education - places where classes are taught and books can be checked out
  • gen pop - general population portion of the prison
  • hot water - a warning to behave because a guard is nearby
  • house - a prison cell
  • in the cut - an area out of view of security cameras and guards
  • iron pile - weight lifting equipment
  • lockdown - when inmates have to all be locked in their cells due to a threat or incident
  • mando - something that is mandatory or required
  • on the count - lining up for an inmate head count
  • on the door - prepare to leave your cell, such as to go to the mess hall for a meal
  • protective custody - when a prisoner is removed from gen pop for their protection from other inmates
  • quiet time - evening hours after lights are turned off and noise must be minimized
  • shakedown - when prison staff searches cells for contraband
  • store - the commissary where inmates can buy merchandise

Slang for Prison Activities and Behaviors

Various activities and behaviors that take place within a prison also have their own slang terminology.

  • Cadillac job - a desirable job among the various prison work duty assignments
  • calling the cops - creating a scene so as to attract the attention of the guards
  • catch a ride - to get high by using someone else's drugs
  • chalking - distracting a corrections officer so another inmate can get away with something
  • chatted out - someone who has gone crazy while in prison
  • chin check - punching another prisoner in the jaw to find out if the person will fight back when provoked
  • crossed out - unfair removal of a prisoner from a good area to a bad one
  • ctq - initialism abbreviation for confined to quarters
  • dinner and a show - term for being in the dining hall for dinner when other inmates start fighting
  • drop a slip - ratting out an inmate for something in writing by using the request dropbox
  • dry snitching - indirectly snitching by talking loudly about another prisoner so guards will overhear
  • fair one - a fair fight, fought without weapons
  • fishing line - cloth or string tied together used to pass contraband to inmates in other cells
  • fishing pole - rolled up newspaper with a paper clip on the end used to remove contraband from fishing line
  • getting buzzed - getting a prison tattoo
  • green light - permission to kill an individual or member of a rival gang
  • kite - contraband note passed to other inmates
  • rec - the time prisoners are allowed to leave their cells for exercise/recreation
  • yard - area for outdoor recreation
  • yard time - being allowed to spend time in the outdoor recreation area

Prison Slang for Items and Apparel

There are several slang terms for items that find their way into prisons, as well as for the apparel that inmates wear.

  • bats - cigarettes; smokes
  • binky - a homemade syringe
  • bobos - plain, unmarked sneakers issued to prisoners
  • brogans - workboots issued for prisoners to wear
  • bundle - a small package filled with contraband
  • clavo - dangerous contraband
  • keister - smuggling in contraband in one's anus
  • kung fu joes - poorly made prison shoes issued to inmates
  • peels - orange prison jumpsuits
  • shank - a stabbing weapon made by a prisoner
  • shiv - an alternate term for a shank

Slang for Prison Personnel

Prisoners often use code terms and slang to refer to prison employees, as well as standard police slang.

  • 5-0 - code for a corrections officer
  • 6-5 - code indicating that a corrections officer is drawing near
  • 911 - caution that a corrections officer is drawing near
  • badge - a corrections officer working in a prison
  • bling bling - warning that corrections officers are approaching
  • boss - correctional officer working as a prison guard
  • cowboy - a corrections officer who is new to the job
  • duck - gullible corrections officer who can be bribed or manipulated to help get contraband in
  • kitty kitty - a female correctional officer
  • ratchette - a nurse who works in a prison
  • robocop - stickler guard who records even the most minor infractions

Now that you are familiar with many common prison slang words, take a look at some gangster slang from the 1920s. This will provide you with a unique historical perspective on crime-related slang. From there, explore a selection of slang words for jail. After that, if you're hungry for even more information, review these examples of slang words from the past and today.