How to Write to Someone in Jail or Prison

Mail is very important to inmates. It keeps them in touch with the outside world, reminds them that someone cares enough to write and gives them something to do when they write back. Whether you are writing to a loved one or choosing a new prison pen pal, make sure you stick to the basics.

  • Skip the musical greeting cards. The cards that play a song when opened up may capture what you want to say, but will never make it to your inmate. Because of the materials used to make the tiny song boxes, such cards are banned from most of the nation’s jails and prisons.
  • Hold the glitter. The card cannot have any glitter on it nor can you put glitter or other craft materials inside the envelope. To be safe, don’t include lipstick kisses. Some facilities send them back marked as unsanitary.
  • Keep it clean. You can send photos of yourself, family functions and other events as long as they are appropriate. As a rule of thumb, if you would not show the photo to a five-year-old, you probably shouldn’t send it. Inappropriate photos will be destroyed or sent back and your inmate might not get the letter that was in the envelope.
  • Include your return address. Most jails and prisons refuse any letter that does not have a valid return address on the outside of the envelope. If you would prefer not to use your home or work address, get a post office box for your jail mail.
  • Remember who is watching. With the possible exception of things the attorney sends in, your inmate has no right to privacy when it comes to mail. Always remember that what you write might be read by other inmates or correctional officers. Use common sense when discussing your inmate’s case. Better yet, save those case discussions for in-person visits, not recorded jail phone conversations
  • Check with the jail or prison before sending copies of newspaper articles, recipes, oe other unusual contents. Most facilities will not allow actual news or magazine print because of their ink, but many do allow you to send a photocopy of the article.
  • Do your best to respond quickly. Though your day is filled with obligations, chores and errands, your inmate’s day can revolve around chow-time and mail call. Take the time to respond even if it’s just to drop a greeting card in the mail with a promise to write soon. It will make a difference.

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.