This is a guide to sending funds and money to an inmate's commissary account. It is a general guide and not specific to a particular institution. Before we discuss how to send money to an inmate you must first learn why an inmate needs money when they are incarcerated.
What a Commissary is
A commissary is a store within the correctional institution that sells various products the inmates can purchase with their own funds. Often times the commissary sells clothing, shoes, snacks and food, as well as hygienic products like soap, shampoo, and shavers. The commissary also sells entertainment products like books, magazines, televisions, radios, cards etc. Perhaps the most important thing that a commissary sells is paper, envelopes, and stamps. To an inmate these are the best items because it allows the inmate to write to someone on the outside. While some facilities will provide a small amount of stamps and paper to inmates who cannot afford it, not all prisons and jails will. Many times people will write to their inmate and not get a letter back and it is simply for the reason that the inmate is unable to afford stamps and paper. Commissary day is usually held once a week and can really only be enjoyed if the inmate has money in his or her commissary account. An inmate's commissary account is like a bank account within the institution.
There are three ways an inmate can get money into their commissary account. The first way an inmate can get money for their commissary account is by working a job within the institution, usually for a menial pay. The second way is if the inmate has some sort of trust fund, inheritance, or legal settlement. The last way is by friends and family members sending them money.
How you send money to an inmate
Sending money to an inmate can vary from state to state, depending if it is a jail, prison, or a Federal Prison.
Federal Prisons and some state level prisons have centralized banking systems. Generally speaking all facilities will allow you to deposit cash through the lobby or a kiosk in the lobby. Most facilities will also accept a postal money order mailed to the institutions inmate mailing address and made payable to the inmate, but now many states are switching over to electronic banking. Electronic banking allows friends and family members to send the funds online, and correctional departments are starting to favor this method because it is less work for staff and more accurate/easier to keep track of, as well as being more convenient.
Regardless of the method of sending funds, there are several key things you will need to know:
- Inmates full committed name
- Inmates identification number
- Current location of the inmate
Before sending any funds you should get the specific procedure for the institution the inmate is incarcerated in. You can find this information on our site by navigating to the facilities page (use the blue bar at the top of the page or select the state the institution is located in from our homepage). Read over the inmate funds section of the facilities page and pay attention to the rules the institution has. In particular pay attention to if the facility requires you be on the inmate's visitation list to send funds, and what the limit on sending money is, because some correctional facilities will only allow you to send up to $200.
Where the money goes
Unfortunately, we have had many people report that they send an inmate money, only to have the inmate request more money within few days. Explanations for where the money went can vary from truth to fiction. Truth: Some states will require any money received by an inmate have a percentage of it distributed towards fines and restitution. In other instances an inmate can actually buy items with their funds only to have the items they purchased taken by other inmates.
When should you be worried that the inmate may be doing something illegal with the funds you are sending them? The most important piece of advice I can give you is to never send money to an inmate's account other then the inmate you are friends or family with. If your inmate asks you to deposit funds into a friend's account be careful as this is almost always a sign of illegal activity. The department of corrections will never require funds to be sent in this manner, and deters it. Inmates often say the money needs to go into another inmates account because the money that goes into their account will have court fee's etc removed, which may or may not be true, but the prison never takes the entire amount deposited, they only levy a small percentage.
Also remember to always keep receipts and order numbers. When sending a money order to an inmate keep the stub with the money order number on it, from time to time money orders do get lost, so having a way of tracking the money order provides you with recourse and sometimes will be your proof the inmate got the funds when they tell you three days later they didn't and need more money....this is also not a good sign. You can always contact your inmates counselor if you feel some sort of illegal activity is occurring.