How to Send a Letter to a Friend Who in Prison

If someone you know is incarcerated in the United States, you can contact them by mail. While you can send emails to your friends as long as the prison accepts that form of communication, you may need to use snail mail to send them gifts or memories from home. Use the following instructions to ensure your mail reaches your friend without issue.

Writing a Letter to Your Friend in Prison

Whether your friend is currently on trial or serving a sentence, you can send a letter to them as long as you do so correctly. Visit the prison’s website as they usually have helpful information and resources that tell you what you can and can’t send, the prison’s physical address, mail policy, and inmate database. 

What to Write on the Envelope

Write the inmate’s name and number on the first line, followed by the center’s address or the P.O box. Then, write the city, state, and zip code. Depending on the detention center, you may need to include the living unit and inmate number. You can include your return address, but it isn’t always required and may be discouraged if you’re sending mail to a pen pal.

Example: South Carolina

In South Carolina, all incoming mail directed to an inmate must be marked with the inmate’s first and last name, living unit, SCDC number, street address, city, state, zip code, and institution’s full name. However, if you don’t know specific information about the inmate you’re mailing, you can search for it on an inmate locator. 

For example, in the state of South Carolina, the Darlington County Sheriff’s Office can give you details about detention center bookings and other information for all inmates. Other states and detention centers will have a similar locator, and you can’t deliver mail to an inmate without all requested information. You run the possibility of your mail being returned.

Warning: All Letters are Opened

Regardless of what you send, staff will inspect and open your mail prior to being delivered to the inmate. However, your mail will be opened in the inmate’s presence. It won’t be read unless there is reason to believe your message includes an illegal activity or something in violation of the correction centers rules.

Messages that include illegal activity, even as a joke, could create an investigation related to the inmates’ case or put your friend in a lot of trouble. It’s best to avoid the topic entirely. 

It’s important never to disclose information you don’t want prison staff to read because what you include won’t be confidential or privileged. Topics of sexual or romantic nature aren’t illegal, but you must be comfortable with staff knowing these details. 

What to Send to Your Friends Via Mail

Even prison has its own rules for what you can and can’t send, but you typically won’t be able to send cash, checks, food, candy, sexually suggestive or gang-related items, greeting cards, items with gel-ink, crayon, glue, or white-out, and hardback or leather-bound books. 

Books are allowed, but only if they’re a paperback and single copy. Books must also be purchased from a secondary source, like Amazon or a bookstore, and must include a legitimate invoice or proof of purchase. Crossword puzzles and newspaper clippings are allowed, but only up to 5 pages per envelope.

How Long Will Mail Take to Deliver?

Prisons have to process all incoming mail daily to thousands of inmates, so it may take up to 2 weeks for delivery. If you feel your package wasn’t delivered within that time, it could be delayed for investigation purposes or held by the post-office. After 3 weeks, you can call the correction center to enquire about a possible missing letter or package.