A mattress dealer we talked to jokingly referred to the few bottom-dollar mattresses in his store as “prison mattresses,” models that no one would sleep on voluntarily. That made us wonder how real prison mattresses, such as the Derby Standard Corrections bed, stack up against the many mattresses in Consumer Reports’ mattress tests. The most expensive mattress in our tests, the queen-size Duxiana Dux 515, costs $7,595. For that you can buy more than 50 Derby Standard Corrections twin-size mattresses at $145 each.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t buy a Derby mattress unless you were furnishing a hunting camp or wanted one for your camper. Far from plush, the 5-inch thick Derby resembles a gym mat more than a mattress. It’s made of fiber padding and foam encased in a blue plastic shell with sealed seams. Ours came with a built-in pillow, though it also comes without one.

Our tough tests yielded some interesting results. As you might expect, the Derby Standard Corrections mattress was especially firm, and it wasn’t notably breathable. It resists bounciness but because it’s a twin-size there’s no sleep partner to wake up anyway. And not surprisingly, other mattresses in our tests offered better support. The mattress scored only fair in our durability test simulating eight years of use, after which we assess changes in support and other wear and tear.

But prison mattresses aren’t made for comfort. One of the challenges for manufacturers is how to design a mattress that can’t be used to hide contraband. The same company makes the See-Clear-ity Corrections mattress, a bed encased in clear fabric. That one we didn’t test.

Consumer Reports tested a prison mattress, the Derby Standard Corrections mattress
Derby Standard Corrections mattress

Mattresses for $500 or Less

If you need an inexpensive mattress for a little-used guest room or a student’s first apartment, you can find one for $500 or less without being condemned to nights of discomfort. The prices here are for the queen-size mattresses we test; a twin-size will cost even less.

For an innerspring, consider the Denver Mattress Doctor's Choice, $500. The Night Therapy 12-inch Euro Box Top Spring, $248, costs half that and narrowly missed our top picks list.

For a foam mattress, take a look at the Tuft & Needle Ten, $500, or the slightly cheaper Sleep Innovations 12-inch Gel Swirl, $470. Two other models that missed the cut cost even less and do have their plusses, the Ikea Matrand, $400, a good choice for couples, and the Spa Sensations 10-inch Memory Foam SPA-1000Q, $360, which provides very good support for back sleepers.

Tips for Buying a Mattress

Tossing and turning all night? Maybe it’s time for a new mattress. On the 'Consumer 101' TV show, CR expert Chris Regan shares tips on what to look for when mattress shopping.