What Can I Send To Someone In Jail?

WhatToGetMy Instructional Article

  • Due to security risks and concerns, there is a very small list of items that an inmate can receive from outside jail. Read on for a list of what you can send and what you can’t send.
  • At the end of the day, the best approach in knowing what to send is to ask the facility what is allowed and whether what you want to send is allowed or proscribed.

The incarceration of a loved one in a prison facility is never easy on any family. That separation creates anxiety and worries for the family left on the outside. You worry about what life must be like on the inside for your loved one. Especially because they are now cut away from the rest of the world and put in a place where they have to defend themselves and contend with the harsh realities of incarceration and the justice system. This article will provide the needed insight into what you can send to someone in jail/prison. This article will also answer some of the frequently asked questions on sending items to your loved one who is incarcerated in a prison facility.


The statistics on the number of imprisoned Americans as of 2018 is very sad and gloomy. Take a look.

Total number of inmates held in custody in State or Federal Prisons or in Local Jails in the US in 2018, By Type of Institution. Source: Bureau of Justice Statistics

Total number of inmates held in custody in State or Federal Prisons or in Local Jails in the US in 2018, By Type of Institution.

And what this means is that just like you, millions of Americans are in dire straits and fits of anxiety worrying about the care and welfare of their loved ones who are in prison. Millions of Americans every day are asking themselves “what can I send to my loved one in jail?”; “How can I help ease their suffering on the inside?” By the end of this article, you will have a pretty good knowledge of what you can and cannot send.

Perhaps it will be some comfort or encouragement to know that in some State facilities, inmates get to earn some form of a stipend for doing menial work, as part of the rehabilitation process. For your interest, here are the stats on the subject, as of 2017.

How much do incarcerated people earn in Regular (“Non- Industry) Jobs in each State? (U.S., 2017) Source: Prison Policy

How much do incarcerated people earn in Regular (Non- Industry) Jobs in each State (U.S., 2017)

How much do incarcerated people earn in Jobs in State-Owned Businesses (“Correctional Industries) in each State? (U.S., 2017) Source: Prison Policy

How much do incarcerated people earn in Jobs in State-Owned Businesses (Correctional Industries) in each State (U.S., 2017)

This would mean that your loved one is hopefully being engaged with productive activity while incarcerated, and is hopefully earning a little stipend that can help them and keep them going while inside.


For security reasons, heavy restrictions are placed on the items inmates are allowed to receive, and the frequency at which they are allowed to receive them. Different rules apply across State lines. It is therefore important that as the first port of call, you find out from the correctional facility where your loved one or friend is being held at, what items are allowed and not allowed, and the frequency at which you are allowed to send them.

Secondly, you also need to be aware that whatever you send an inmate is first scrutinized by the prison authorities before your friend or loved one can even receive it. In a case where your package contains an item that is not allowed, your loved one/friend will not even get to know you sent the item, talk less of receiving it. What this means is that first, you need to be sure that what you are sending is not contraband and that secondly, you are comfortable with a third party seeing the item or reading (in the case of a letter), what you are sending.

Thirdly, you need to always have the full details of your loved one/friend and the address of their facility handy at all times because you will always need to make use of it every time you need to send a package to them. The relevant details that you need to always have are their full legal name(s), their prison ID number, and the facility’s complete address.

Finally, what you send your friend/loved one is the only link to the outside world they have. And so, they look forward to it. And for this reason, it is important to make every time you get to send something to count.


Despite the very stringent rules placed on sending packages to inmates in prisons and despite the differences across State lines, some do’s and don’ts are pretty standard across the country. And here they are.

What You Cannot Send.

You will not be allowed to send any of these items in any correctional facility/prison:

Food items.

Food items purchased outside a recognized care package provider are not allowed. Most of the food and snack items that inmates are allowed to purchase outside of the food given in their facility, has to come from a care package service provider that the facility has recognized and have a working agreement with. If you, therefore, want to send any food items, you will need to find out from the facility which care package provider they work with and order through that care package provider.

Sexually explicit books, magazines, pictures, cards, or letters.

Generally, books, magazines, pictures, cards, and letters are allowed subject to restrictions. One such restriction is that they should not have overtly sexual or sexually suggestive content. Where the content is deemed as such, the book, magazine, picture, or letter will be thrown away and not given to your friend or loved one.

Letters that have extraneous accompaniments.

Letters that come stapled or with paper clips or any other metal object attached to it are not allowed. This is as a result of the security risk those objects could pose and their likelihood to be used as weapons. In the same way, if you spray perfumes or glitters or use coloring or crayons in the letter, it will not be given to your friend/loved one. If you write in signs or symbols in your letter, it will also not be allowed because of the risk of sending secretly coded messages to an inmate.

Books that are hardcover will not be allowed.

Books sent must be in paperback, and must be sent directly by a recognized supplier such as Amazon, and not yourself. If you send a book of whatever nature directly, it will be returned to you. It is best to order the book for your incarcerated loved one on Amazon and then have it delivered to them by Amazon. Remember not to order hardcover, but paperback. Remember to also include their full details as highlighted in the earlier section.


You cannot give money directly to an inmate but you can put it in an account that is usually created for inmates to use to purchase things on the inside. We will discuss these in detail in the next section.

Any other material.

Materials that fall outside the purview of letters, pictures, cards, magazines, and books are generally not allowed, although the rules on these differ from State to State. Usually, any other material will have to come in a care package from a recognized service provider. If you want to send any other material that is not a letter, picture, card, magazine, or book, find out from the facility what the rules are.

You can check out Prison Pro for additional and more detailed information.

What You Can Send.

These are the few things that you can send.


As earlier indicated, physical money is not allowed to be given to an inmate. You can put the money in a cashless account maintained by the prison facilities for inmates. There are two kinds of cashless accounts kept for inmates in prisons – a phone account and what is known as a commissary account.

A phone account is what allows them to make calls to you and any other person on the outside. To help them make calls to you more frequently, you can put money in their phone account and let them know.

A commissary account is an account that allows an inmate to buy necessities like soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, and toilet paper to name a few. The prison facility does not supply inmates with a lot of supplies that one would consider necessary, and that is why this commissary account is a useful lifeline for an inmate. From this 2017 study, one can see that the items purchased by inmates with the monies in their commissary account are critical and important. And this is why you should never think that the $20 or however amount you put in is small. It makes a world of difference to them.

How Much Do Incarcerated People Spend on Commissary (U.S., 2017). Source: Prison Policy.

How Much Do Incarcerated People Spend on Commissary (U.S., 2017)

What are Inmates Buying? Illinois Prisons 2017. Source: Prison Policy

What are Inmates Buying Illinois Prisons 2017

What are Inmates Buying? Washington Prisons 2017. Source: Prison Policy

What are Inmates Buying Washington Prisons 2017

What are Inmates Buying? Massachusetts Prisons 2017. Source: Prison Policy

What are Inmates Buying Massachusetts Prisons 2017


As indicated earlier, everything is scrutinized by the prison officials to be sure that items that pose a security risk are not smuggled in and given to the inmates. This means that your letter should be very simple and straight to the point. Do not use innuendos or language that is not simple English. Again, because of the risk of sending secret and coded messages, the contents of letters are heavily scrutinized. And even in writing in simple English, if you know that what you are saying in the letter is not something you want a third party reading, do not write it in the letter as the letters are read first before being passed on to the inmates.

Remember that your letter is one of the few links to the outside world your friend/loved one has. They look forward to receiving your letter. And receiving a hand-written letter from you makes it all the more personal and heartfelt for them. Even when it feels discouraging or daunting, never stop sending your loved one/friend that letter.


Pictures are another item you are allowed to send to your loved one/friend. But remember that as indicated earlier, any sexual or sexually suggestive picture will be confiscated. As with your letter, keep the pictures simple. It is advisable to send only family pictures or pictures with no sexual connotation of any sort.

It should also be said that in sending pictures of family members, be sure that the family members in question are listed on your loved one’s list of recognized visitors. If any person in any picture that is sent isn’t on the prison’s list, the picture may be flagged.

It is also important that you do not write anything on the picture or behind it except the details of your incarcerated loved one i.e. their name and prison ID. These details are required to be written at the back of the picture so that it gets to your loved one.

There is also a limit on the photo size that can be sent. For most facilities, the picture should not be more than 4”x6”. And if you will be using a stamp, some facilities say you cannot attach more than 5 photos to one stamp. Ensure that you find out what is allowed in terms of picture size and numbers before you send them.


Magazines are generally allowed provided their contents are not sexual and do not promote violence or criminal activities. Usually, the facility is likely to have a list of the types of magazines they allow the inmate to receive. It will therefore be important to find out from them first before you go ahead with any purchases.

Also, remember that you will not be allowed to send the magazines directly to them. Only the issuer of the magazine or an authorized reseller like Amazon is allowed to send them directly to the inmate at the facility. Buy from the Magazine issuer or Amazon and have it shipped directly to them. Remember to supply all their details when purchasing so that the magazine can reach them.


Books that are paperback will be allowed. Again, they have to come from the distributor or authorized reseller and not from you. Just as with the magazine, purchase online and supply their full details and the reseller will send it to them directly.

It also needs to be said that there are usually limits on how many books an inmate can keep. It would be worthwhile to check with the facility beforehand so that you don’t exhaust the book quota and send books that will not be delivered to your incarcerated loved one/friend.


Cards sent on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas or any other occasion are always extra special to an inmate. It reminds them that you love and care about them and that you have not forgotten the important details about their life.

Remember to keep the card very simple and without extraneous accompaniments. If your card has any glitters, shiny objects, or other items we listed earlier, it will be destroyed and not sent to your loved one. Also, remember not to attach pictures to the card but rather send them separately. Make the card count by ensuring that it does not have anything that would cause it to be rejected.

We understand how difficult it must be for you and your family in dealing with the incarceration of your loved one/friend. And while it is very tempting to want to send as much stuff as you possibly can to keep them comfortable on the inside, these restrictions are things you have to always remember and abide by so that your loved one/friend is not completely without anything from you.


1. What are some fun things to send to inmates?

Sadly, there is only so much you can send an inmate. Because they are not allowed to receive any material that is not in simple English, you are constrained in the funny things you can send. The only funny thing you could send to cheer them up now and then is to maybe order a book of corny jokes on Amazon for them and send directly to them through Amazon. Here are a few suggestions –

2. What are some creative mail ideas for inmates?

You can only go so far with creativity when it comes to sending mail/letters. This is because words sent to inmates are always carefully scrutinized and any suggestive mail or letter or one that is hard to understand will be trashed. Within the limits allowed, you can give them updates about what you’re up to, together with pictures sent separately.

3. What to send an inmate for their birthday?

You can send them a birthday card and a photo of the both of you. You can also find the care package provider recognized by the facility and see if they have a birthday gift basket in their package and send them such a package.

4. How to send books to someone in jail?

Order the books you want from Amazon and have Amazon deliver it directly to their facility. Remember not to order hardcovers but paperbacks. And also remember to supply their full details set out earlier in this article.

5. What comes in a care package for inmates?

Different rules apply in different prison facilities across the States. Some facilities refuse to accept care packages from individuals and prefer to deal with care package providers they have an agreement with. Find out what applies at the facility in question.

6. What are the rules for sending pictures to inmates?

Pictures should normally not be more than 4”x6” and should not be sexually suggestive or sexual in any form. Check out the section above on pictures.

7. Can you send an inmate a birthday card?

Yes, you can. Refer to the section on cards above to see what rules apply to such a card.

8. Can you send a care package to someone in jail?

Yes, you can within the limits we earlier spoke about. Find out from the facility what care package providers they work with and send through them, it will make things easier for you.

9. How do you comfort someone in jail?

Comforting someone in jail is never easy because they are in prison and that reality alone will keep them down. The best comfort you can give them is to not judge them and be there for them as much as you can. Send them letters and other materials allowed. Encourage them with uplifting words when you visit them and treat them the same way you were treating them before they were incarcerated.

10. What do you say when visiting someone in jail?

Don’t change the way you relate to them. When you visit them, have a cheerful countenance because if you look down and gloomy, you will infect them with negative energy and that will not be good for them. As difficult as the situation is, try to remain positive and cheerful. Tell them all the funny jokes you shared before their imprisonment. Keep the conversation light and cheerful. And never forget to tell them that you love them. They feel terrible enough as it is, and knowing that they still have your love will keep them strong and going.

11. Can you send food to prisoners?

Sadly, you cannot send food directly. Read our section on what you cannot send for more insight.

12. Can you send magazines to inmates?

Yes, you can. Check out our section on magazines for more insight.

13. Can anyone write letters to an inmate?

The letter has to come from someone related to the inmate or at least on the prisoner’s register for the inmate. Letters sent are heavily scrutinized and if a letter that is regarded as suspicious is received, the inmate would never receive it.

14. Can inmates write each other?

No, inmates are not allowed to write to each other to avoid sending collusive messages. If an inmate wants to write to another inmate in a different facility, they will need to ask for and be granted permission first by the authorities. And even then, whatever letter they write will be heavily scrutinized.

15. Can you send stamps to prisoners?

You will need to find out from the facility if stamps are allowed.

16. What time of day do inmates get mail?

These are dependent on the facility in question and the rules and policies they have in place for the same. You will need to ask them and find out.

17. How long does it take for an inmate to get a care package?

This will depend on the service providers for delivering such care packages. Find out from them what their timelines are.


There is only so much you can send to someone in jail because of the serious security risks involved. Within the limits discussed in this article, you can send the following items:

  • Letters;
  • Magazine;
  • Books;
  • Cards;
  • Pictures;
  • Cashless money.





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