What You Need to Know Before You Send an Inmate a Care Package

Whether your loved one is in jail or prison, sending them a care package can make a world of difference. The rules for sending care packages and mail can be stringent, so take a little time to read which option is best for you.

Sending inmates a care package and other mail is a process that can take some steps to navigate and can often be expensive, but the reward can be high for inmates and their loved ones.

This connection to the outside world can make all the difference to an inmate, and receiving care packages and letters is an important method of keeping the inmate up-to-date on the lives of their loved ones. If you are hoping to send an inmate a care package, keep reading for a better idea of what goes into the process.

Accepted forms of mail vary by state and institution, so always be sure to check the website or call your inmate’s specific jail or prison for more information. Look for information on maximum weights of packages, sizes of photos/drawings, and restricted items. Figuring out what is accepted may be a trial and error process, so do not get discouraged your first few times around the block.

Care Packages for Inmates in Jails Can Differ From What You Can Send to Prisoners

The rules for items that can be received by inmates vary between institutions based on the type of facility and varying security levels. Mail reception can also be based on your inmate’s length of sentence and behavior.

Care packages for inmates in jails can vary from what you can send to prisoners. Some short-term facilities and jails do not deliver packages and reading materials to inmates. In some high-level security prisons, only letters are allowed.

Third Party Vendors

For many families, trying to determine what items are approved or not approved for care packages is daunting. After spending time thinking of fun things to send to inmates, having gifts for prisoners confiscated can be disheartening.

As a result, many turn to ordering goods through private vendors like Access Securepak, iCare, or Keefe Commissary Network. While this can be expensive, loved ones run less of a risk of having items confiscated or not delivered to the inmate.

Items that can be send include food, clothing, and some electronic items. What may seem small to you, like a snack, can make a world of difference to a loved one facing a lifetime of prison food.

Evaluate your own needs and what you are willing to sacrifice in order to stay connected with your inmate. Do you have the time to research and jump through the hoops of sending your own care package?

Do you have the financial resources to send something through a company? Or, are you prepared to have the items in your care package thrown out if they do not meet requirements?

Personal Packages

For those who desire to send their own care packages, there are some guidelines that often apply across the board.

The filter that you should always keep in mind is, “Could this item be used to make a weapon, plan an escape, cause violence, or influence someone’s mind towards drug use or sexuality?”

Always keep in mind that all mail is inspected by prison staff, so nothing will be kept private between loved ones and inmates.

Families should also be sure to check the facility’s rules on weights of mailed items so as not to exceed the limit.


  • Many institutions allow photos and pictures that are printed one-sided on photo or plain white paper. Do not send double-sided or paper that can be peeled apart. Maximum sizes can be 8×10 or sometimes 4×6 inches.
  • Keep in mind that some prisons, especially maximum or higher level security, only deliver photocopies of letters or images to inmates so as to prevent any opportunity for contraband.
  • Some institutions have a maximum number of photos/pictures allowed for each inmate. This can also vary based on what security level your inmate is held at, their behavior, and the mail delivery schedule. A safe number is up to 3 photos, sometimes 5.
  • The content of photos/pictures will be scrutinized, so keep these out of your pictures: violence, drugs/alcohol, sexually explicit images, maps/blueprints, hand signs, tattoos and images of the inmate themselves.
  • Do send photos and images that depict events, people or places that are part of the inmate’s life. (Again, do not send photos that actually contain the inmate in them.) Drawings from children are perfectly acceptable as long as they are on the appropriate paper. It is safer for drawings to be done in pencil, not crayon or markers.
  • If possible, write the prisoner’s name and ID number on the back of the paper.

Books, Magazines, Newspapers

For inmates facing long prison sentences with little to nothing to do to keep their minds occupied, receiving books, newspapers and magazines can make all the difference during their time in prison. As can be expected, there are rules to sending these items, although it may not be as hard as one would expect. Again, check with the specific institution for guidelines on sending these items. Some short-term institutions and jails do not allow inmates to receive reading materials.

  • Items must be new and books must be soft cover. Hard cover will not be accepted.
  • All reading material must be send directly from a publisher or company like Amazon to the prison. Only include the item(s) in the package, which you should address as you would any other mail (the inmate’s name and ID number).
  • Ship items through USPS.
  • As with letters and photos, do not send reading materials that contain excessive violence, sexual content, or other lewd content. (So no Playboys!)
  • Check with the institution’s rules, but usually, no more than three items should be sent at a time.


Sending a care package to your inmate is not quite as easy as you might hope, but the work that goes into it is worth it. Any mail, letter, photo, or book is a part of the outside world that your inmate will treasure.

At the very least, sending books and magazines from Amazon, as well as letters and photos from home will impact your inmate. Browse the catalogs and information from third-party companies that can deliver other goods to your inmate, and remember that every little item counts.