Inmate Mail: When I Write Letters to Someone in Jail, Can They Use What’s In those Letters Against An Inmate?

In a word, yes. Assume that nothing is private. The only mail that cannot be read by jail personnel is mail that is coming in from an attorney or going out to an attorney, and even then, the jail might require that the mail be opened in front of them so they can search it for contraband and generally screen the mail. Some facilities have been looking for ways to limit the types of mailings that can be received. Only an attorney should advise you about criminal matters, but use caution because there are things that should never be put in a letter to an inmate.

Case discussions: If you are aware that the inmate has committed the crime he has been accused of, do not under any circumstances put that in a letter. For one thing, it can be given to the District Attorney to be used as evidence against the inmate. Even worse, if you two are not married, you can be summoned to court to testify against him about what you know regarding his guilt. It is best not to talk about his case at all except to offer supportive thoughts or prayers for him in court.

Other crimes: Many inmates have found themselves racking up additional charges while in jail based on information people wrote them in letters. For example, if someone is accused of theft but you also know he burglarized the neighbor’s home last year, mentioning that burglary in a letter may alert authorities to closely investigate the unsolved case, and if they can link it to your boyfriend before the statute of limitations expires, he picks up a new felony charge. Once again, if you are not married to each other, you can be summoned to testify against him in court about your knowledge of the crime.

Future crimes: No matter how angry or frustrated you are about the case, do not write a letter talking about getting revenge on the person who turned him in, and do not write and ask him what he wants done to that person, either. You may be just blowing off steam and you would never actually do anything, but authorities have no way of knowing that. Plotting a crime with an inmate is a crime and could not only cause him trouble but you could end up in jail.

Other people’s crimes: Know that shouldn’t discuss other people’s possible crimes in letters, either. For example, letting your inmate know that his younger brother robbed the local pharmacy last night will get authorities looking to see if a robbery indeed took place and if it is still unsolved. Even if your intentions are good, such as giving your inmate a heads up so he can talk to his brother about straightening up, you will be causing everybody trouble. And if it turns out the rumor you heard was false, you have caused needless extreme stress for several people.

Final thoughts: Write about your life, your job, your family, and positive subjects. Talk about the plans you and he have for when he gets out. Discuss books, jobs, food and things that are neutral. Letters are a great way to communicate feelings, emotions and life. They are the wrong place to discuss cases and crimes.

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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.