Inmate Care Packages and How They Work

If your inmate is incarcerated in a jail that offers a care package program, you can have some fun surprising your inmate from time to time with a box full of things that you’ve personally selected for him or her.

The Basics

Inmate care packages are boxes or bags that are pre-filled with items from a commissary list. You cannot put a care package together at home and send. All care packages must be ordered online from an approved vendor and then shipped directly to the jail. This is to prevent drugs and other contraband from being shipped in under the guise of being care package items.

Typically, the items that go into a particular care package are related somehow. For example, they might be filled with personal hygiene items, stationery supplies, or several different types of snacks.

The Different Types of Packages

Depending on the company the jail has contracted with, there are several possible types of packages to choose from.

Some companies put together care packages and you will choose from their predetermined grouping of items to send to your inmate. When you get to the company’s online site the packages you can choose from will be described. All items in the package will either be listed or photographed, similar to when ordering a gift basket. You choose the package you want to send to your inmate and buy it using a credit or debit card online.

Other companies allow you to pick and choose which items go into the care package and then you pay the total of all items using a credit or debit card. Both options can provide a nice surprise for an inmate.

Quarterly Packages

When the company offers a seasonal package (spring, summer, fall, winter), there are often seasonal clothing choices and perhaps some holiday food items to purchase. Many families choose to split the cost of the packages among family members because these packages often cost more than the ones readily available year round.

An example of a winter care package could include:

Long Johns


Extra thick socks

Hot cocoa packets

Tea bags

Several holiday greeting cards to mail out


An electronic care package might include:

An FM AM hand-held radio

Sets of earbuds

Several batteries

Stationery items

Candy bars

While the price of a care packages can be higher than purchasing the same items in a store, they serve a purpose. The vast majority of jails in America do not allow inmates to receive things that come from a store on the outside. This is not only to prevent problems with contraband being snuck into the jail but also to prevent fights between inmates who want to take another inmate’s expensive items that were store bought. Jails reduce such problems by only allowing inmates to own items that came from the same commissary list that all inmates have access to.

When it comes to birthdays and other gift- giving holidays, you are extremely limited in what you can do for an inmate. There is the option of putting extra money on his or her books, but that isn’t as fun and doesn’t include the same element of surprise. A care package can be sent to your inmate without him or her even knowing it is coming.

How to Choose

Figuring out which items or package would be best for the inmate takes some listening beforehand. During visits or calls does your inmate mention being hungry a lot? Perhaps he or she talks about how cold the cells are getting or how it would be great to be able to listen to some music. If you think back over the past few conversations you have had with the inmate, you will be able to figure out which care package items would mean the most at this time.

Expense Sharing

If the cost of a care package is beyond your budget, contact other friends and family members of the inmate and ask them to go in on it with you. This is especially easy to do around birthdays or holidays. Everyone is in the same boat with not being able to send store purchased gifts to the inmate. Offer to put their name on it if they help pay for it. A care package with a $60 price tag doesn’t look so daunting if five of you are splitting the cost.


You should contact the jail or prison before making a purchase and find out how often the inmate is allowed to receive a care package. Some facilities only allow an inmate to receive one or two a year. Others make it a quarterly thing and still others let anyone who wants to send a care package do so at any time.

Final thoughts: Information about how to order care packages can be found on the facility website where your inmate is located (you can link to these pages through our inmate search). These packages can be fun and exciting to send to your inmate. However, it doesn’t take the place of mail, calls and visits. If you cannot afford a care package and pay for phone calls, trust that the best gift you can give an inmate is your time. Letter writing, visits and calls mean more to him or her than all of the candy in the world.

Related: Why Commissary is Important



About Mark Miclette 682 Articles
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.