What Can You Send to Inmates in Prison?

Updated on 7/6/2022

When a loved one is imprisoned for any amount of time, you’ll strive to do just about anything in your power to help them maintain some semblance of peace.

Though you won’t be able to see or speak with them as much as either of you would like, you can fill the time in-between by mailing your loved one letters and other materials, letting them know you’re thinking about them.

While the selection of items you can mail an inmate is rather small, in such a dire situation, the sentiment of sending anything at all to your loved one is what truly matters.

Before we discuss what you’ll likely be allowed to send your imprisoned loved one, we need to discuss what isn’t allowed, as well as some of the stipulations you’ll face when sending approved items.

What to Avoid When Sending Mail to Inmates

Rather than discussing specific items that can’t be sent to inmates via mail (as this list is inexhaustible), let’s consider the reasons an item wouldn’t be allowed inside a prison:

  • The item could be used as a weapon
  • The item could be used to plan an escape
  • The item could incite violence
  • The item promotes drug use, is contraband, or is related to drugs in any way (tobacco products included)
  • The item promotes gratuitous sexuality or sexual deviancy

The personnel in charge of accepting (or rejecting) mail within a prison must always consider the worst-case scenario, meaning they will always err on the side of caution. Even items you might use on a daily basis will be held to the highest level of scrutiny when being sent to an inmate.

As the sender, you’ll need to keep this in mind, as any item you send that is deemed unacceptable will be disposed of or returned to you – resulting in wasted time, money, and effort on your end. Though you have limited options when sending mail to your imprisoned loved one, you can still make a world of difference in their lives with the things you can send.

What Can You Send to Inmates in Prison?

Acceptable items to send to your imprisoned loved ones fall into four categories:

  • Written correspondences
  • Money (Sent electronically or through money orders)
  • Reading materials
  • Preapproved packages

Though your loved one can receive such items via mail, they will still be checked by prison administration before being handed over to the inmate. If the item is deemed unacceptable, it’ll be disposed of – and your loved one may not even be notified that you sent it.

Before we dive into the specifics of what can be sent to your loved one in prison, note that you must include your loved one’s full legal name, their prison ID number, and the facility’s complete address in the mailing address of your sent item.

Letters, Greeting Cards, and Photographs

As mentioned earlier, you likely won’t have too many opportunities to speak with your loved one during their time away.

While being away from them is undoubtedly difficult for you, your loved one will be almost completely cut off from all of the people they know outside of prison walls.

That being the case, any correspondence they receive from friends and family will be a welcome relief.

Perhaps the best way to let them know you’re thinking of them is to pen a heartfelt letter or card, or send them a photograph to remind them of better times.

When sending any of these items, though, you still need to adhere to the regulations set forth by prison administration. Pigeonly can help ensure any letters, any greeting cards, or photographs you send meet these regulations. When it comes to letters and cards, keep all aspects of the item simple.

On the envelope, include only pertinent information regarding addresses – don’t doodle or write any messages that can be misconstrued by administration. Don’t spray perfume or cologne on the envelope. Don’t even use tape to seal it.

The physical letter or card should be nothing fancy, either. Avoid sending cards with glitter or other “flashy” material. Even something like beveled lettering could be enough to lead administration to dispose of your heartfelt message. Never include things such as staples and paperclips when sending letters or cards.

Keep the content of your letter simple, as well. Tell your loved one how much you miss them, and provide them words of encouragement. While you can give them some updates of your personal life, take care to not include information that could be construed as a message regarding illicit activities and associates. Do not include any language of a sexual or derogatory nature at all.

As for photographs, the same rules apply: keep them simple and appropriate.

Stick to pictures of home and family members. When sending pictures of people, though, take care to ensure these individuals are on the inmate’s approved guest list – just to be on the safe side. Avoid sending pictures of those who may have been involved in your inmate’s crime or are otherwise part of the negative side of their past.

Depending on your relationship to the inmate, you might be tempted to send photographs of an explicit nature. Remember: prison administrators check everything that comes through their doors. If they deem a photo too racy, they’ll dispose of it.

Also, consider the size of the photographs you wish to send to your loved one. Generally, the largest size picture you’ll be allowed to send is 8” x 10”, and in some cases only 4” x 6”. To be certain the inmate will receive the picture, check with the institution’s guidelines before mailing them.

Whether you want to send greeting cards or photos to an inmate, Pigeonly helps you do so with ease.

After you upload the message or picture you’d like to send your loved one, Pigeonly works to ensure the physical aspects of the card or photograph meet the guidelines of the specified institution. As long as the content of your card or picture is acceptable, your inmate should receive the mail with no issue. Money Many people aren’t aware that money is, in fact, a valuable asset to imprisoned individuals.

In a literal sense, cash that gets deposited an inmate’s account becomes more like “credits,” but is used in the same way money normally is nonetheless. Sending even the smallest amount of money can provide your loved one with the most freedom they could possibly ask for given their current circumstances.

Inmates can spend these credits in one of two places: the commissary, or their phone account.

The commissary is a store full of assorted goods that are approved for inmates to purchase. Most commissaries offer a selection of the following types of items:

  • Toiletries
  • Snacks
  • Clothing and footwear
  • Electronics
  • Hobbyist materials

The items available to your loved one depend on the rules of the facility, as well as the inmate’s conditions.

In addition to the commissary, your loved one can use money sent to them to fund their phone account. In many cases, inmates must pay for every phone call they make or receive, so having money saved up to do so can prove to be invaluable.

(On a side note, if you’re looking to spend money specifically to be used for your inmate’s phone privileges, there may be more cost-effective ways of doing so than funding their account.)

Sending your incarcerated loved one money can provide them with a small amount of freedom, as well as help them maintain a grasp on the world outside the prison’s doors. Any money you can spare will mean a great deal to your loved one.

Reading Material

One thing that inmates have an abundance of is time.

While their circumstances are anything but optimal, they can make the most of their time inside by reading as much as possible.

And you can help.

Unless prohibited by the rules of the institution or your loved one’s conditions, inmates should be allowed to receive books, magazines, and newspapers through the mail.

As with letters and photographs, though, restrictions apply regarding the contents and physical characteristics of the reading material being sent.

Regarding content, explicit or illicit material is strictly prohibited. This includes gratuitous sexuality, violent material, or any text or images that promote behavior that is unacceptable within a prison institution.

Reading material cannot be sent to a loved one in prison from you, personally. You must order the book, magazine, or newspaper from a supplier such as Amazon (or directly from the company), and have the item shipped to the prison.

In addition to this, the item must be brand new and arrive in factory sealing. If ordering a book to be sent to your loved one, make sure it is a softcover copy.

Books, magazines and newspapers can provide inmates a window to the outside world, keep them up-to-date with current events, or allow them to escape into a world of fantasy – if only for a short period of time.

They can also provide educational and motivational opportunities for your loved one, helping them improve their lives as much as possible while they do their time.

By sending your loved one reading material from time to time, you help remind them how much is waiting for them on the outside.

Preapproved Packages

In certain circumstances, you may be able to send your imprisoned loved one care packages from an approved vendor.

You won’t be able to ship just anything to an inmate.

Luckily, companies such as Union Supply Direct have an in-depth understanding of what can and cannot be sent to specific institutions, making it easier for you to choose a care package for your inmate.

Union Supply Direct’s Inmate Package consists of various food items, clothing, electronics, and toiletries for your loved one to use and enjoy. Though nothing extravagant, these items will provide some level of comfort and entertainment to your inmate. Depending on the institution in which your loved one is being held, you may be able to send up to two packages per month.

You might also be allowed to send your loved one an approved Food Package twice each year. This package includes snack foods, candy, and – depending on the institution – soft drinks. Again, while the items included in the package might not seem like anything too special, your loved one will genuinely appreciate not only the items, but the effort you’ve gone through to send them.


Though you have a limited number of choices when it comes to sending an inmate a gift, anything you do send will almost certainly cheer them up.

From a simple letter or card to a book or care package, these items can help remind your loved one of everything they have in life – even when things seem so bleak. And they can help keep your loved one on track toward becoming a better person, and help them continue working toward the light at the end of the tunnel.

Remember, though: each institution has unique rules and guidelines when it comes to sending inmates mail and gifts. Be sure to check with your inmate’s prison administration before you send anything at all, or your loved one may never receive the item you’ve sent them.

Pigeonly can help you send letters, cards, and photographs to your imprisoned loved ones. Check out how our services can help you stay in touch with your inmate..