Looking to stay in contact with an inmate? In this day and age of being able to send a text and receive a reply instantly, communicating with an inmate may be a big adjustment to normal ways of staying in touch with someone.
While there are sometimes digital options for communicating with an inmate (which we will discuss below), for the most part, family and friends should expect to exchange messages the old-fashioned way – sending letters through the mail.
Like with any other type of interaction with an inmate – visiting or talking on the phone (INSERT LINKS) – sending mail is not as simple as sticking a stamp on an envelope and sending it. Anywhere from knowing the proper address to what you can actually send, family and friends should make every effort to confirm with the facility or the inmate how to get mail to them.
Some facilities do offer electronic messaging options for communicating with inmates. Be sure to double check with the facility – do not trust any website that offers electronic messaging services. In some cases, these service charge high fees for no reason and merely print out and send your message to the inmate.
Email an Inmate (i.e. Electronic Messaging)
Does logging onto your Gmail account and sending an email sounds too good to be true? Unfortunately, it is. While the electronic messaging system that is available is not very complicated, there are some steps to using it effectively.
First, check with your inmate’s facility to find out if they offer this service and if so, which system they use. Some may use Corrlinks, while others might partner with other companies or may offer their own system.
Another thing to keep in mind is that electronic messaging is not free for inmates, even if it is free for you. Costs to use this system vary between departments of correction. The Federal Bureau of Corrections charges inmates five cents per minute of system use, while some states may charge per message (rates vary.) If you plan to use this method of communication, check with your inmate to know if they need you to deposit funds into their account.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons and some states’ departments of correction utilize Corrlinks for electronic messaging. It is available online, and there is also a Corrlinks app for friends and family. For friends and family to use this system, the inmate will need to enter the email address of family/friend into their own electronic messaging system (Trust Fund Limited Inmate Computer System).
The recipient will receive an invitation to their email to create an account with Corrlinks. All messaging must take place in the Corrlinks system, although family and friends can opt to receive a notification to their email address each time they receive a message in the Corrlinks system.
Sometimes this system is only one-way, meaning that family and friends can send a message from Corrlinks, which will be printed and delivered to the inmate. All replies from inmates would then be written back via letter.
Be aware that inmates may have restrictions on the number of characters they can use. Traditionally the limit is about 2,000 words. The speed of delivery both inbound and outbound can vary, as electronic messages are monitored. Keep that in mind! Nothing you write to or say to an inmate over the phone will be confidential.
Letters to Inmates
Sending letters to inmates is another way to stay in touch, especially if their facility does not offer electronic messaging. As with all types of communication, letters are searched and read.
Anything suspicious will be returned to the sender or thrown out. Keep in mind that prison staff are always look for anything that could be mistaken as a message on escape, secret codes, etc.
Check with the facility for specific rules on what you can and cannot send through the mail. Some facilities are very strict about the type of paper that can be used, how many sheets, etc. Generally, avoid including the following:
- Glue, glitter, tape, crayon, lipstick
- Drawings that could be identified as a prison or escape route
- Avoid spraying perfume on paper
- Staples, paper clips
- Any items besides the letter and possibly some photos
Many facilities allow photos to be sent in letters, but check with your inmate’s facility if they are allowed and if so, what sizes and how many. Sending photos of what is going on in the lives of the inmate’s family and friends is a helpful way to keep the inmate involved in the lives of their loved ones.
Be aware that in some cases, photos that include the inmate may be rejected. Keep the following in mind:
- Do not send double-sided or paper that has been glued together.
- A safe number of photos to send 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.
- 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 photos.
What else can I send an inmate?
Although most prison and jail facilities do not allow you to send care packages, some allow you to send books and magazines to an inmate straight from a book distribution or publishing company (such as Amazon).
Especially for inmates with long sentences, receiving reading material can not only keep them up-to-date on what is going on in the world, but it helps pass the time and keeps their minds sharp.
Keep in mind that some short-term institutions and jails do not allow inmates to receive reading materials. Additional things to consider are:
- Items must be new and books must be soft cover. Hard cover will not be accepted.
- 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.