Mail in Prison
Federal prisoners are permitted to receive mail during their incarceration. This mail can be sent from virtually anyone outside of prison (e.g., friends, family, businesses, etc.).
Prisoners are generally prohibited from communicating with prisoners in other facilities unless they are either co-defendants or immediate family members. Due to contraband regulations, prisoners must sign an agreement with the Federal Bureau of Prisons to permit prison employees to open and inspect all incoming mail for contraband prior to delivery.
While incoming mail is searched by prison staffers and delivered every weekday, outbound mail is handled differently depending on the security level of the prison. Prisoners housed at medium- and high-security federal prisons are not permitted to seal their mail prior to dropping it in the mailbox in the housing unit. Instead, prison staff inspect all letters for contraband and other rule infractions prior to sealing it. Those housed at low- and minimum-security federal prisons are permitted to seal their own outbound mail.
Writing to an Inmate
There are no limits to the number of letters prisoners can send or receive, but there are regulations that do apply. For example, while you can’t receive anything other than books that weighs over 16 ounces, you also have to receive prior authorization to mail an envelope or package that weighs over 16 ounces. Also, as it concerns outgoing mail, you need to add each contact to your TRULINCS computer contact list and then print a mailing label to go on each envelope.
To address letters to incarcerated loved ones, you need to include their full legal name and eight-digit registration number, along with the general routing information (e.g., P.O. Box number, city, state, and zip code). Sometimes it can be helpful to also include the name of the prison, but this, along with housing unit and bunk assignment, are not required.
In addition to letters, federal prisoners are permitted to receive hardcover and softcover books, magazines, photos, and newspapers. Generally speaking, paper-based products are permitted. A good rule of thumb, since policies differ at varying security levels and even individual prisons is for books, magazines, and newspapers to come directly from a publisher or bookseller.
Photos cannot contain nudity, and books may not be explicitly graphic or provide instruction on martial arts. Also, with the exception of boxes or envelopes containing books, there is a 16-ounce weight limit applied to all inbound mail. If an envelope weighs over a pound and is not clearly identified as coming from a publisher or bookseller, then it will be returned to sender.
Most prisoners don’t receive much, but typically, some of the most common things prisoners receive in the mail are newspaper and magazine subscriptions, books, and letters. You are only permitted to possess five books at a time, so it’s best to avoid issues and stick to this limit, but there is no limit for newspapers and magazines. These items are essential to keeping prisoners connected with the real world. Letters help prisoners realize they are not forgotten, and publications will help keep them informed of what is transpiring in the world outside of prison.
A good, general newspaper such as USA Today or the New York Times is a great item to mail a prisoner. As for magazines, Prison Legal News is terrific. Many prisoners seem to enjoy the tabloids (e.g., Star Magazine, OK Magazine, US Weekly, People, etc.). The Economist is another great one. The idea is to stay connected with the outside world, but to also provide yourself with healthy, pro-social readings. This helps more than you think when it comes to reentering society.
All communications are subject to monitoring. This includes mail, telephone, email and visitation. A good rule of thumb is to not discuss rule infractions or other illegal activities with prisoners. If you need to discuss something quietly, come up with a shorthand approach so that prison security officials have a harder time following along and connecting the dots.
While not every piece of is mail read or every telephone call is listened to, every communication has the capability of being reviewed. For example, every telephone call and email is saved and prison staff have the capability of listening to each call and reading each email. Likewise, prison mailroom staff have the ability to read every incoming piece of mail. While they do search every piece of mail for contraband, they don’t read every letter. There simply isn’t enough time in the day for that.
For more information on U.S. mail in prison or other aspects of prison life, Contact us.