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

This is a general guide about how to send items to an inmate. It will cover mailing letters, photos, books, cards, magazines and newspapers.  For the most part these are the only items that can be mailed to an inmate (with the exception of Holiday packages).  At no time should you attempt to mail an inmate anything else, such as jewelery, personal items etc, as they will likely be confiscated as contraband.  If at anytime you are unsure of what you can send, contact the facility over the telephone using the numbers provided on our site.

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 at times be slow, and when a facility goes on lock-down incoming mail deliveries stop and will not continue to be delivered until the lock-down 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 (with the exception of digital mail services, which I will discuss below).  What the majority of these companies do, is print out the letters 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 be hard to understand, but when an inmate receives a letter that is penned by hand it is much more personal, and can give the sense of a connection to whomever is writing the letter.

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)
  • If your letter is refused/returned you can contact the facility and ask why, but usually it will have a simple explanation provided.

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 receive 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 to give you inspiration throughout the day.  Additionally, when an inmate receives a photo it can let them see the things you have been discussing with them in letters or over the phone....the offender can see what that new car, boat, baby, pet, or vacation you took actually looks like, think of it as old fashioned Instagram.

Unfortunately, photos are another area that some online companies exploit.  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 or a similar online service, often for under 10¢ per photo (always search for online coupons to save).  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 it may have 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

Receiving books, magazines or newspapers is a gift that can be enjoyed for days and even sometimes weeks after an inmate gets them.  Sending books and magazines to an inmate is fairly simple.  Almost all institutions will allow inmates to receive books (with the exception of temporary classification and diagnostic institutions), but they stipulate that they need to come directly from the publisher.  What does that mean 'from the publisher'?  Simply put, it means you can order them from (must not be used or from third party sellers).  

Some key things about ordering books are they must come NEW, and 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).  If you are unsure of this information utilize our inmate search feature, or call the facility directly for this information.  Be sure to enter facility name and the address that inmate mail is received at (which may not be the same as the physical address).  For example, if I were sending an inmate items who is incarcerated at Ulster Correctional Facility I would address it as follows:

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

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 adult content 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 for security reasons)
  • 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

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.

Remember, when sending items to an inmate it is best to send a letter first.  This will confirm the inmates location and ability to receive items, and if you are unsure about what you can send contact the facility using the telephone numbers provided.  Also keep in mind that whatever you send an inmate they will need to store, and some correctional facilities will only allow a certain number of items to be in the inmates possession at a given time.  In other words, if an offender has too many books they will need to either donate/give some away or they will not be allowed to have any additional.