5 Essential Tips for Contacting an Inmate In Jail

5 Essential Tips for Contacting an Inmate In Jail

Being an inmate in jail can be an incredibly stressful experience, but one thing that keeps a lot of inmates going is their contact with the outside world.

Are you trying to contact someone in jail? You might be finding the process a bit difficult to understand. If you're having trouble finding and contacting the person you're looking for, read on for a guide that can help you. 

1. Give as Much Detail as Possible

The first thing you need to do is find the inmate—the more information you can give about them, the better. If you know their full name, sex, date of birth, date of conviction, and the last known destination of their incarceration, you'll stand a much better chance of finding them. 

Of course, there can be hundreds of jails in one state alone. You can narrow your search down using a handy inmate search. Using search tools like this can speed up the process and help you find your inmate in no time. 

2. Arrange to Visit

Now that you've found an inmate, you can initiate contact with them. One way to get in touch with them is by visiting. 

To visit an inmate, you need to get approval from the jail in which they are currently housed. To do this, you either need to fill out a questionnaire or be added to their approved visitor list. This should be an easy enough process if you're close family/good friends with the inmate.

You need to dress appropriately for jail visits and make sure to behave in a calm and dignified manner. You'll likely have to go through a metal detector to get into the jail, so make sure not to wear anything that could slow this process down. 

Most inmates are allowed around four hours of visitation time a month. 

3. Call the Inmate in Jail

Inmates can talk to loved ones, friends, or anyone they wish, over the phone. 

It's important to remember that you can't call the inmate yourself. Instead, they have to call you during their allotted telephone time. Jails run on tight schedules, so inmates are rarely free round the clock to accept calls at random times of the day. 

When an inmate calls, an automated voice will inform you that you have a collect call from the jail in question, and it will ask you if you'd like to accept the charges. Once you do, your call has begun. 

Most jails have time restrictions on calls. This is because they often have many inmates wanting to use the phone, and a time limit is the only way to ensure everyone gets a fair amount of time on the line. 

Interestingly, jails have begun allowing virtual visits. This can be seen as somewhat of a combination of a phone call and a visit and allows for greater flexibility around both. 

4. Send Letters, Photos, or Books

Letters, photos, and books are probably the most important possessions that inmates will own. Reaching an inmate by mail is easily done and will be greatly appreciated by them. 


If you've found the prisoner's details, then sending them a letter will be easy. There are just some things to remember on what to do and what not to do.

When writing the letter, be sure to add the full name of the inmate, their prisoner number, and the mailing address.

There's no room for informality when formatting your letter, and getting it right is the best way to ensure it gets to the person you want it to get to. As we'll cover in a moment, the letter will be read and inspected before it is handed to the prisoner. Some things that could lead to your letter being refused are:

  • Staples and paper clips
  • Using marker, glue, glitter, or crayon on the envelope
  • Spraying the letter with perfume
  • Any details on illegal activity 
  • Any phrasing, drawings, or symbols that could be interpreted as code


You are also permitted to send photos to inmates. This is another thing that can boost their morale and put a smile on their face. Once again, though, there are specific rules you need to follow.

The photo must be no bigger than 4"x16". It cannot be pornographic or sexually suggestive, and it shouldn't show any hand signs or tattoos because of potential links to gang activity. Most jails also set a maximum of five photos per delivery, so don't send any more than that.


Books can help jail inmates pass the time so much quicker, and they'll appreciate being sent them. Nearly all institutions will allow their inmates to receive books, but there are a few rules to be aware of. 

Your book will need to come directly from the publisher, i.e., it can't be second-hand or from a third-party seller. Books from Amazon are allowed. The book also must be paperback, and you cannot send more than three at a time. Failure to meet these rules will mean your package won't get delivered to the inmate. 

5. Know That Your Communications Are Monitored 

The jail will monitor nearly all your communications with an inmate for security reasons unless you are their legal counsel. Prison officers will read letters, scan through books, and observe photos. Physical visits will take place in the presence of guards.

This is just a daily part of life in jail that most inmates become used to, but it can be a little overwhelming for people trying to get in touch with loved ones. The best thing to ensure continued correspondence with the inmate is to play by the jail's rules. 

Find an Inmate Today

There are several different ways to contact an inmate in jail, but it may still all feel a bit overwhelming. If you require more information on jails, how they work, and how to navigate the system, contact us today to see how we can help you. 

Jail Exchange is one of the most comprehensive resources on detention facilities in the US. Any question you have for us, we can answer.