For an inmate in prison, jail or another correctional facility, every bit of assistance and communication from family and friends can make a world of difference. One of the most game-changing ways family and friends can support a loved one in prison is to provide for them financially.
What does someone in prison or jail need money for? There are three main expenses that an inmate spends money on – paying court and other legal fees, paying for telephone use, and buying items from the commissary store.
In some cases, a percentage of funds deposited into an inmate’s account will go to paying fines and restitution.
For an inmate to make calls to family and friends (INSERT LINK), they need to have funds either on a phone account or in their commissary account to pay for phone use. Rates can vary, sometimes starting at 15 cents a minute.
A commissary is a store inside prison or jail where inmates can buy basic necessities that are actually not provided to them, such as toothbrushes, socks, hygiene products, stamps, etc. For prison inmates with longer sentencing items such as radios, televisions and reading materials can be purchased as well. Being able to purchase items from the store is essential to prison survival.
Family and friends should remember that usually, it can be difficult to send packages to an inmate (INSERT LINK), so sending funds is the next best thing.
Some inmates in prison do make money by working jobs. Still, be sure to communicate with your inmate to find out what they need. There are some important things to remember before sending money, as well as red flags to look for with how your inmate is spending the money.
Before Sending Money
Make sure to have your inmate’s correct information for depositing funds. This includes the inmate’s: Full Name, Registration/Identification Number, Name of Facility.
Every institution has different rules and regulations regarding sending funds to an inmate. Some place limits on how much money an inmate can have in their account, how often an inmate can be sent money, and how much can be sent at one time.
Cash is almost never an accepted form of funds – some facilities do allow you to mail funds, but often require them to be in the form of a money order or cashier’s check.
Be sure to check with the institution where your inmate is held for rules about sending money and guidelines on the best ways to, as there can be several. The last thing you would want is to send funds, and they never reach your inmate.
Deposit At Facility, Mail or Phone
At some facilities, there are kiosks in the lobby where you can use a credit/debit card to deposit funds into your inmate’s account. Some facilities will accept funds in the form of a cashier’s check or money order.
Similarly, sometimes family and friends can mail a cashier’s check or money order to the facility. The envelope should clearly state the inmate’s name and identification number.
Some facilities provide a phone number to call to deposit funds into an account by credit or debit card. Check with the facility for information about this.
Send an Inmate Money Online
Most facilities provide some form of electronic or online “banking,” as it is easier for staff to avoid managing processing funds into inmate accounts.
If the institution does not have its own online banking system – which some do – then it will most likely partner with a third-party system. (Some facilities provide both options.) Be sure to verify before using one of these providers that the institution where you inmate is held partners with them. These are just a few of these types of online banking systems:
Western Union hosts money transactions of all types, not just to inmates. It is an internationally reaching company.
There are three ways to use Western Union to deposit funds for an inmate:
- Pay online with a credit or debit card
- Pay with cash or card at a physical location, either with an agent or at a kiosk.
- Call 1-800-634-3422 and pay by credit or debit card.
Be sure to have your inmate’s full name, identification number, and facility name. Although it is a large company, Western Union does not reach all facilities, so be sure to check if it services the one your inmate is at.
Note that you may be charged fees for any of these transactions, especially those completed with a credit card. Try using a debit card to avoid incurring high fees.
Fees can be higher based on the amount of money sent, so try to pay attention to how much you incur in fees based on your transaction amount.
MoneyGram allows family and friends to send funds to an inmate’s account, as well as receive any funds that the inmate wants to send to them. The fees for using MoneyGram can be more manageable than Western Union.
There are two ways to deposit funds through MoneyGram – in person or by online. Paying online can be done by credit or debit card. Cash can be used in person.
Most physical locations are inside of stores, such as drug stores or Walmart. Thus, the person completing the transaction may be an employee of the store and may not be able to troubleshoot problems or answer questions.
In addition to offering money transaction services to loved ones who want to deposit funds into an inmate’s account, JPay also offers other services such as email and video visitation services. If a facility partners with JPay – as many do – you can inquire if they utilize other services from JPay.
JPay prides itself on offering an easy and efficient way to send funds to your inmate. JPay deposits can be made online with a credit or debit card, or by calling 1-800-574-5729.
One can also visit a MoneyGram agent to send funds through JPay. Talk about easy, there is also an app that can be used to send funds.
Be warned, JPay’s fees for transferring money can also be quite high.
Was the money received?
Inmates will often receive a receipt when they are transferred money to tell them how much is in their account.
If this system is not in place, they can inquire of an officer or the accounting office if they have received funds.
If it ever seems like you send money to your loved one in prison and not long after they are requesting more, keep in mind that their institution may take out a percentage for court and legal fees. Make sure to check on this with the facility.
Also be aware of how much your inmate is talking on the phone, as that can be costly depending on where they are calling. In some cases, an inmate may purchase items from the commissary, only to have them stolen or lost.
If you are suspecting that your inmate may be using money for illegal activity, don’t hesitate to try and find out from them how they spend the funds.
A red flag to be aware of is if the inmate asks you to deposit or send money into another inmate’s account. Even if they tell you to do so so that funds are not taken out for legal fees, be hesitant to do this.
The Bottom Line
Anything you can do to make your inmate feel loved and supported is valuable, and sending money, is not merely a token of affection. This gesture can make incarceration much more bearable, as inmates will be able to phone loved ones, pay legal fees, and purchase items from the commissary store.
Remember, prisons and jails often don’t provide inmates with basic necessities such as socks, hygienic products, razors, and other items. These have to be purchased at the commissary.
If your inmate is responsible enough, they may be able to secure a job at the facility to generate income. However, until that happens, or even after, be prepared to help financially support your inmate.