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What’s Allowed in Mail to Someone in Jail or Prison?

Brief Synopsis: Before sending anything to an inmate, it is prudent to familiarize oneself with what may and may not be mailed to an inmate, including limits on money, stamps and envelopes.  To read about the general guidelines, please read the article below to avoid problems, including a criminal investigation that could lead to becoming an inmate oneself.         
It should come as no surprise that one cannot mail an AR-15 to someone serving time in a local county jail or state prison.  Likewise, one is not allowed to mail an inmate a file capable of sawing through prison bars (although this is certainly attempted, even on a regular basis), illegal drugs, alcohol or pornography.

What rules exist as to what one can and cannot mail to an inmate?  While we know of no specific law that addresses this, we do know the following are good guidelines to follow and be aware of when mailing things to inmates:
  1. Do not send cash, credit cards, bank cards or phone cards.  However, one can mail an inmate a check or money order as long as it includes the inmate’s name and CDC number on it.  For funds to be mailed directly to an inmate’s account, one can deposit the funds through www.jpay.com or call (800) 574-5729.  Many prisons and jails limit the amount that one sender can send to an inmate per day, often $100 per day;
  2. Do not send identification cards;
  3. All mail must have a full return address;
  4. If one sends an inmate postage stamps or envelopes, the limit is 40 stamps and 40 envelopes.  One may also send an inmate white or yellow lined paper for letters;
  5. Do not send videos, CD’s or cassette tapes;
  6. Do not send the inmate glasses or contact lenses;
  7. Do not send matches, lighters or cigarettes (or firecrackers or drones);
  8. One may arrange for an inmate to receive a magazine, book or newspaper, but the item(s) must be sent directly from the publisher to the inmate.  The book, magazine or newspaper cannot spread racism or hate.  Some jails and prisons limit the number of books one inmate can receive in a day to three and specify that the book cannot exceed nine inches by twelve inches in size and cannot have metal or plastic binding;
  9. Do not send anything in a padded envelope, bubble wrap or in a cardboard box;
  10. Do not send musical greeting cards, but other greeting cards are acceptable;
  11. Do not send locks of hair, bodily fluids or dried / pressed flowers;
  12. Do not send pens, pencils or markers (or any sharp item);
  13. Do not send an inmate glue or tape;
  14. Do not send Polaroid photographs, negatives, slides or photo albums.  It is also smart to avoid sending photos showing drugs and / or drug paraphernalia.  Also do not send an inmate anything that displays or describes sexual penetration or sexual acts, or nudity of any sort.  Otherwise, one may send an inmate up to ten photographs, but they cannot exceed four inches by six inches;
  15. Do not send material that depicts gang-affiliated material, i.e., hand signals, hand gestures or gang symbols;
  16. Do not send items of clothing, food, hard plastic, metal, wood items, magnets, rubber, glue or glitter;
  17. Do not send jewelry;
  18. Do not send maps of the area surrounding the prison or of the prison itself, or of bus, train or subway station schedules;
  19. Do not send tattoo patterns or tracing patterns;
  20. Do not send mail with any powders (i.e., gunpowder or sulfuric acid), liquids or solids that may be regarded as explosives or drugs;
  21. Do not send an inmate unauthorized correspondence from a parolee or another prisoner, or a photograph of another inmate or a victim of a crime related to the prisoner;
  22. Do not send stickers;
  23. Do not send lipstick, perfume, cologne or scents on mail or the envelope; and
  24. Do not send anything that may be regarded as a threat to the safety and/or security of the institution, or any correspondence that attempts to circumvent the above rules.
This list is not an exhaustive list of rules and limitations.  We urge anyone sending mail to an inmate to use common sense and good judgment.  It is not a game to test the CDCR mail room or security to see what can pass through.  If mail violates any of the above rules, the inmate will be notified by being issued a CDC Form 1819 Notification of Disapproval.

Depending upon what is rejected by the jail or prison when received in the mail, it may be returned to the sender, destroyed, or confiscated for use in a criminal investigation of the sender.

For more information about visiting someone in jail or prison, please click on the following articles:
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