Needing to send mail to an inmate? Here’s a do and don’t guide to help you along your way.

When your loved one is sitting in a jail or a prison, communication tends to be much harder on families. You can no longer pick up the phone and send them a quick text, call them, email, or have a conversation with them in real-time.

This puts a huge strain on many of the relationships in families who have a member sitting in jail. But this does not mean, you still cannot communicate with them, but on either the prison or jail terms though.  Inmates (who display good behavior (can still get packages, letters, and even make phone calls back home as well.

In this post, we are going to dive into the general protocol of how you, the family member or friend can send care packages, letters, and other misc. items to the jail or prison.

But before we dive into that, we do want to say that each jail or prison may have their own protocol. It is best to contact the facility your loved one is in before sending any mail to them to ensure that what you will be sending is within the facilities rules and regulations, so your mail will reach the inmate and not either be sent back to you or disposed of.

Benefits of Sending Letters to an Inmate

When you get mail on the outside of prison or jail, it is typically just another bill. For inmates who do not get that extra human contact, this can be something that makes their days, weeks, or even month for that matter.

Depending on what prison security level, the inmate is classified in the inmates can be sitting in their cell nearly 23 hours a day. That can easily drive anyone insane. When an inmate receives a letter, especially from a family member or a close friend that gives them something different to think about. Something different to read. It allows them to have a little bit of an escape from reality even if it is just for a few minutes.

Most inmates in prison and jail cannot wait to receive letters from their friends and family members. It is one of the few things inmates have that they can ultimately look forward to.

Unfortunately, the mail system at most of the jails and prisons throughout the United States tend to be slower than a snail. The process can take weeks from the time you send your letter to the time an inmate will receive your letter inside the facility.

It does not help if when you send your letter to the inmate, and the jail or prison is under full lockdown. When a lockdown happens nothing will be moving, including the mail facility. Inmates will not receive letters, packages, or anything during a lockdown. All processes of the jail and prison will fully resume once the lockdown is officially over.

Things to Avoid When Sending Letters

When sending an inmate, a letter in prison or jail, there are many things you will need to avoid ensuring the letter or package is accepted and not sent back to you or worse, discarded.

First thing is first, you should know that when you send a letter, package, postcard, or anything to the prison or jail, the staff will check everything. Staff members will read everything that is being said. They will touch everything that you send. There is no privacy for you or for them when it comes to anything going in or out of the facility.

So, to save yourself a huge headache, we have compiled a list of general things that all facilities throughout the United States do not allow. Here’s the following list:

  • Refrain from using staples and/or paper clips
  • Refrain from using crayons, glitter, lipstick, or glue
  • Refrain from using perfume or any other sort of fragrance
  • Refrain from leaving any sort of drawings or markings that can be construed as a gang symbol or a secret code.

If you follow the protocol above, you should have no issues having your mail get to the inmate. However, you should also keep in mind that if you send letters that have a plan of escape, evidence about a case, or anything else incriminating, your letter will not reach the inmate. It will be properly handled by the proper authorities. You can also lose the privilege of sending an inmate a letter as well.

Prison Letter Scams, Watch Out

Just like everything else, there are even scams out there that will pray on your vulnerability to get in contact with an inmate faster.

There are companies out there that market to families and friends with loved ones behind bars and promise them that they can get your letter to the inmate fast or even in real-time. That is not true. Please do not fall for it.

What these companies do is take the letter you have typed up, print it out, and then mail to the facility for you.

Will your letter get there faster or even instantly?

Nope, not at all. These places must go through the same protocol and steps that you do. There is nothing special about them. The only difference is that they will mail to the facility for you and charge you a pretty penny to do so.

Plus, keep in mind that you are going to pay more money for a service you can do for far more cheaper and inmates rather get a handwritten letter from you rather than a typed letter. A handwritten letter is much more personable than one that is printed off the computer.

Can I Send Photos?

Of course, handwritten letters are the best thing possible to send to an inmate, but you are probably wondering if you can send photos to an inmate. The answer is yes, yes you can.

As you probably have noticed that your kids are growing so fast, that your loved one is missing holidays, parties, and other celebrations. While they cannot be there, they can receive photos of these celebrations and photos of the children to see how much they have grown since they last saw them.

Photos is a great morale booster for those locked away behind bars. It is one of the best things an inmate can receive. Inmates tend to use their photos to decorate their cell, us them as bookmarks or even just carry them around on their person to show them to their fellow inmates and talk about their family on the outside.

What is Acceptable When Sending Photos?

Now, just like sending letters, there is a protocol you will need to follow. Keep in mind that each facility in the United States will have a different protocol, so it is always best to contact them first before you send any photos.

However, we have compiled a small list of general rules that most facilities in the United States have. The list will include the following:

  • Photos should be no bigger than 4”x6”
  • Photos should always have the inmates name and identification number on the back
  • Photos should not be of sexual content or contain any nudity
  • Photos should be free of hand gestures and tattoos
  • Typically, you can only send between 3 to 5 photos at one time

Keep in mind just like letters the correctional officers will be looking at all photos you send. If you would feel uncomfortable with someone else looking at the photo other than the inmate, that is a sure sign that you should not be sending that photo to them.

All photos that do not follow the protocol will be sent back to the sender in most cases or at times they will be properly discarded. Just like if you keep violating the mail protocol, the facility has the right to refuse further correspondences from you as well.

Photo Scams, Watch Out

This scam is very similar to the one where companies will mail these letters to the facilities on your behalf in record time.

However, these companies will let you upload your photos to their database. They will say something to the effect that the inmate will have access to log on to our database and view the gallery you have created for them of all the photos of your loved ones, holidays, celebrations, etc.

But what they will not tell you is that the company will print out the photos you have uploaded and mail them to the facility where your loved one is in.

Because inmates cannot get on the internet while they are in jail or prison. They do not have access to the internet, so they will not be able to log on and see your gallery.

However, these companies will charge you a pretty penny to yet again, do what you can do for a much cheaper price. You can easily send these photos in the same envelope that you are sending your letter in and the inmate will be receiving them at the same time.

Do not fall victim to these scams at all. They prey on individuals like yourself that is yearning to get in contact with their inmate as fast as possible without the waiting period.

Can I Send Magazines, Books, and Newspapers?

Depending on the inmate’s security level, they may spend nearly 23 hours a day in their tiny cell. This can lead to utter boredom. Think about spending 23 hours a day in your work cubicle. You would go mad.

So, inmates will have a lot of free time on their hands. This means sending them newspapers, magazines, and books can help the time go fast. It will allow them to escape their reality and enjoy themselves even if it is for a short while.

Of course, sending magazines, books, and newspapers sounds like a daunting task, but it really is not. It is not as bad as it may sound. It is very easy to do, to be completely transparent with you.

Just like with sending letters and photos, there is a protocol you will need to follow. The good thing about sending these sorts of items to prison, most of the prisons and jails throughout the United States have the same protocol when it comes to this one thing.

The only thing you will always have to follow is you cannot mail books, magazines, or newspapers from your home. All these items must be sent to the facility directly from the publisher.

You are thinking, how do I get in contact with the publisher? That’s easy. Log on to Amazon. Amazon will mail things directly from the publisher. If you do not want to use Amazon, you can always use your bookstore as well. Most of the facilities will accept books that come from the bookstore too.

You will need to also keep in mind that when you are sending these items they must be mailed by USPS to the inmate’s facility, books need to be new, and books are required to be paperback as well. If you send a hardback book, they will be disposed of. All books need to be paperback.

Can I Send a Holiday or a Birthday Card?

This question is also frequently asked, if you can send the inmate a birthday or even a holiday card.

The answer easy a yes. Yes, but you will need to ensure the card you are sending is a standard card. The card cannot be one of those fancy singing cards or even a pop-up card. The card cannot have stickers or glitter on it too. It literally just needs to be a standard plain card. The card can have writing on it, but you will need to refer to the mailing a letter do nots to make sure it still will follow protocol.

Sending Care Package

You may want to send your inmate a care package. This will ultimately be up to the facility your inmate is in. Some facilities allow care packages that are sent directly from an approved third-party vendor, while others do not accept care packages whatsoever.

You will need to contact the facility, the inmate is in to find out if they allow care packages, and if they do what are the rules and protocol for sending one. Always ensure that you are following the most up to date protocol to ensure the inmate will receive the items you send.