Sending Books, Letters, and Photos to an Inmate: Important rules you need to know

In this general guide on mailing items to an inmate I will cover mailing letters, photos, books, cards, magazines and newspapers.

Inmate letters
Mailing Letters to Inmates

It may not seem like much to someone on the outside, but when you are incarcerated letters are your lifeblood.  They keep you going from day to day and bring the voices or those you love right into your head.  Often times inmates can hardly wait to get that next letter delivered from the mail room.  In prison and jail there are few things to look forward to and mail is one of them.  Getting mail can be slow, and when a facility goes on lockdown incoming mail deliveries to inmates stop and do not continue until the lockdown is lifted.

One of the big scams out there that I have been noticing is various "Inmate Service" companies that claim you can contact your inmate online, or send them a message through their website.  Don't be fooled this is all a scam as no inmates have access to the internet or any instant messaging services.  What these companies do is print out the letter you type and mail it in with a stamp, meanwhile they charge you double, even triple or more to mail and it arrives no faster then if you just sent it yourself.  Besides the fact that it is a rip-off, it really takes the best part out of receiving a letter...It may sound stupid but it's not the same getting a typed letter.  Getting one that is penned by hand is much more personal and makes you realize how much you even miss the persons handwriting.

Some things you should never do when sending a letter, as it will result in the letter being rejected:

  • Don't use staples or paper clips
  • Never use marker, crayon, glitter, glue, stickers or lipstick on the letter or envelope
  • Don't use perfume or any other fragrance
  • Any drawings or markings that can be misconstrued as secret code etc. will result in refusal
  • Never write anything in the letters that you wouldn't want a third party to read (all mail is inspected and read by staff)

Inmate photos

Sending Photos to Inmates

If there is one thing an inmate loves more than getting a letter in the mail, it's getting photos.  Photos are great to recieve when your incarcerated for many reasons.  First, most facilities let you hold on to your photos and you can put them up in your cell, keep them as a bookmark, or just carry the photo with you everywhere to give you inspiration for that day when you walk out free again.  Another great things about getting photos is, you can see what that new car, boat, baby, pet, or vacation looks like that your family and friends keep telling you about in letters and during visitation.

Unfortunately, photos are another area that some online companies are exploiting.  These companies let you upload photos online, they print them and forward them to the inmate, meanwhile they are charging you ten times the amount it costs to just do it yourself.  I find the best way to send photos to an inmate is to print them through Walgreens, often for under 10¢ per photo.  You can upload the photos online and then go pick them up, put them in an envelope and mail them or just have them mailed directly to the inmate through the Walgreens website (mailing them directly has some drawbacks).​

Some important things to remember when sending photos:

  • Photos should be no larger than 4"x6"
  • Always print the inmates name and ID number on the back of the photo in pen (this helps the mail room staff)
  • Photos should never contain nudity, sexually suggestive material
  • Hand gestures and tattoos are often not allowed because of gang implications
  • Only 5 photos can be sent in an envelope with a single stamp at a time, and often times a facility will only allow 3-5 photos
  • Remember staff and other inmates will be seeing these

Inmate books and magazines

Mailing Books, Magazines, and Newspapers to Inmates

Okay, I know before I said "if there is one thing an inmate loves more then a letter is photos"...Well there may be a few other things that top the list.  Receiving books, magazines or newspapers is a gift that really keeps on giving sometimes days and even weeks after an inmate gets them.  But how do I go about sending them, you ask?  It is much easier then you think.  All institutions allow books (with the exception of temporary classification and diagnostic institutions), but they stipulate that they need to come directly from the publisher.  Well what does that mean 'from the publisher'?  Simply put, it means order them from  

Some key things about ordering books are they must come NEW, and must must must be paperback.  If they are hardcover they will be rejected.  If they are used they will be rejected.  If they are not from a publisher like amazon and you send them yourself in a box they will be rejected!  Ordering books for an inmate through Amazon is easy, you just have to make sure that you select ship by USPS and that you ship it to the inmate's mailing address.  Put the inmate's first name and last name followed by the inmate's ID number in the name line of the shipping address (John Doe, 12345).  Next line put the facility name and then the address, so if I were sending an inmate items to Ulster Correctional Facility it would look like this:

John Doe, 12345
Ulster Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 800
Napanoch, New York 12458-0800

If you are unsure of the inmate's mailing address or the inmate's ID number we have all that information on our site.  Just use the search on this page to find the facility, or you can select the state the facility is located in on our homepage or by clicking the blue bar at the top of this page.  I have ordered dozens of books and magazines for inmates through Amazon and have never run into a problem yet, except for one time when I ordered something to an inmate who was at a short term facility, but they just rejected the box of books and Amazon credited me back, with no extra work on my end.

Magazines and newspapers can be ordered the same way, through amazon and using the same method at checkout we highlighted above.  Just remember to be tasteful.  The institution will not allow magazines like Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler....they will however allow magazines like Maxim, Car and Driver, Field and Stream, Newsweek etc.

Some important things to remember when sending books, magazines or newspapers to an inmate:

  • Do not send more then 3 books at a time
  • All books must be new and soft cover (no hardcover or spiral bound)
  • Always ship USPS
  • Use the inmate's name and ID number with the facility mailing address
  • Inmates in solitary cannot receive mail

Sending Holiday/Birthday Cards

Can you send an inmate cards?  This is a common question we get asked.  You can send holiday and birthday cards to an inmate but they must not have any electronics or popup/out content.  They must also adhere to the policies surrounding appropriate content (no nudity or sexually suggestive material no matter how funny), and they cannot have glitter, stickers or anything else that makes the card different from a normal plain old card.

If you have any questions or comments please post them below.