Here at Pigeonly, we know that keeping in touch with your incarcerated loved one will be one of your top priorities throughout the duration of their sentence.
As we’ve talked about before on our blog, there are a number of ways you can do this – from writing letters to your loved one to sending them pre-approved care packages.
You also have the option of sending photographs, pictures, and drawings to your loved one, as well. Where letters can serve as a line of verbal communication between you and your loved one, pictures and photos can serve as a visual reminder of what they have to look forward to upon their release from jail or prison.
However, as with pretty much every other aspect of your loved one’s life behind bars, a number of restrictions exist with regard to the photos and pictures they’re allowed to receive.
In this article, we’ll go through some of the most common restrictions you may face when sending photographs, drawings, and other visual content to your incarcerated loved one. We’ll also provide advice as to the type of photos and images you can and should send them whenever you get the chance to do so.
Technical Restrictions of Sending Photos and Pictures to Inmates
Before we discuss the actual content that’s allowed (and not allowed) when sending pictures and images to your incarcerated loved one, we need to discuss the more technical aspects of doing so.
Reason being, there’s a very real possibility of your photograph, picture, or drawing being discarded by prison administrators before your loved one even gets a chance to see it – all because you didn’t follow the prison’s specific guidelines when preparing your picture to be sent.
First things first, any visual image you send your loved one must be printed on a single sheet of either plain white paper or photo paper. Polaroids and two-sided sheets of paper (or any type of paper that can be peeled apart) is generally not allowed, as such methods are sometimes used to transmit drugs and other illicit substances, in liquid form, in-between sheets.
You’ll also generally be restricted to sending 8”x10” pictures and photographs, at the very largest (some prisons even restrict this measurement to 4”x6”). This probably won’t be too big of a deal, as it’s unlikely you’d be sending anything larger, anyway.
Another restriction, here, is in the amount of pictures or photographs your loved one will be allowed to receive at a single time. While some prisons are rather lenient in this area (allowing for 10 or more images at a time), others restrict this number to at most five images. Also, keep in mind that most prisons restrict the amount of photographs and pictures an inmate can have in their possession at one time, as well. So, before you send a number of images to your loved one, you’ll want to ensure that your doing so won’t put them over the limit, so to speak.
Another area of concern that could potentially cause your picture or photo to end up being rejected is the envelope in which you send it. The envelope you use must be plain white, with no markings, logos, or any writing on it (other than the addressing information). You must not place any labels, stickers, or tape on the envelope, as, again, people sometimes do so in an attempt to pass along illicit substances to their incarcerated loved ones.
The San Diego County Sherrif’s Department provides the following image as a guideline for addressing an envelope to an inmate:
Note that you must use your loved one’s full legal name when addressing a piece of mail to them. For example, if your loved one’s name is Robert, addressing your photo or picture to “Bob” will likely cause the correspondence to be rejected.
Again, you definitely don’t want your pictures or photos to be returned to you – or worse, thrown away – due to a technicality. Following these guidelines may seem like jumping through hoops just to please the prison’s personnel, but it’s important that you follow them exactly as stated in order to ensure your loved one receives the images as quickly as possible.
Content Restrictions of Photos and Pictures Being Sent to Inmates
In addition to the above-mentioned technicalities regarding the physical makeup of the paper your photos and images are printed on, the actual content of these images will be heavily scrutinized, as well.
While specific guidelines vary depending on the institution your loved one is currently incarcerated in, the following guidelines tend to apply at all times:
Images that depict – or even insinuate – violence will definitely either be returned to you, or destroyed. This includes inflammatory images that could potentially incite anger and/or violent behavior. Images depicting animal abuse will also be confiscated or done away with. Though not specifically related to violence, images including gang signs and/or tattoos will also be rejected.
Similarly, images depicting anything having to do with drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or related paraphernalia will be disposed of, as well. While this might seem obvious, it can be easy to overlook something as simple as a beer can or cigarette in the corner of a photograph taken at a party or barbecue.
Sexually explicit images are also generally prohibited (despite what movies and TV shows may depict). Now, there’s definitely a gray area here: some institutions draw the line at complete nudity and/or sexual behavior, while others may not even allow fully-clothed, sexually suggestive photographs to be received by inmates. Your best bet here is to not send any pictures that you wouldn’t want to be seen by just anybody.
Now, this one probably goes without saying, but images depicting maps, blueprints, or any other physical makeup of the prison your loved one is incarcerated in (and any other prison, for that matter) are strictly prohibited. Similarly, any image depicting tools or instructions that may aid your loved one in making an attempt to break out of prison will not only be disposed of – but could potentially lead to charges against you and anyone else involved in the making of the images.
Lastly, the photos or images you send cannot include your loved one, other incarcerated individuals, or anyone who has any kind of criminal ties whatsoever. For one thing, such pictures may be construed as a means of promoting criminal behavior; secondly, such images may unintentionally incriminate your loved one or their associates even further than they’ve already been.
Again, these are the basic restrictions that almost certainly apply no matter where your loved one is incarcerated. However, depending on your loved one’s specific circumstances, further restrictions may apply. Your best course of action is to contact the prison’s administrative staff before you send any type of image to your loved one, and follow the guidelines they provide to a T.
So, What Images Can I Send to My Incarcerated Loved One?
Although there are certainly a fair amount of restrictions regarding the type of images you can send your loved one in prison, you’re still free to send them pretty much any other photo or picture you can think of.
(Not only that, but the above restrictions really aren’t all that restrictive when you think about it. You probably don’t ever even take violent photographs anyway, right?)
Anyway, let’s discuss some examples and ideas of what you might consider sending your loved one.
First and foremost, your loved one will certainly appreciate receiving pictures of their friends and family members, as they’ll serve as a reminder of what your loved one has to look forward to upon their release from prison. However, as we said earlier, make sure none of the individuals included in these photos were in any way involved with your loved one’s crime. Additionally, you’ll want to contact the prison’s administrators to ensure the people within these pictures are on your loved one’s approved list of visitors.
Additionally, remember to take pictures whenever attending a special event or doing anything that you know your loved one would appreciate. Again, these pictures will help your loved one keep their mind on the day when they’re able to enjoy these pleasures once more. Additionally, your loved one will appreciate knowing that you took the time to think of them while you were experiencing these events first-hand.
You can also send pictures that you or your children have drawn for your incarcerated loved one, as well. This is also a great way to show your loved one that their friends and family members are thinking about them, and are also looking forward to the day you’ll all be reunited. Take note, though: all drawings should be done on plain white paper, and should typically be done in colored pencil. Again, some institutions may allow drawings done in crayon, marker, or other methods – so you’ll want to clarify this with personnel before you or your children spend time creating art that ends up being discarded.
(You can also get around this by making a copy of the original drawing or picture, and keeping the original in a file for your loved one to go through when they come home.)
Overall, your goal when sending photos and images to your incarcerated loved one is to lift their spirits and help them grow and move on with their life. For this reason, you want to ensure that the images you send them are “G-rated,” lighthearted, and optimistic. In doing so, you not only ensure that the images will actually reach your loved one, but you also do your part to help brighten their day as much as you can.
Pigeonly can help you send photos, drawings, and other images to your loved one quickly and efficiently, without having to worry about a technical glitch causing your pictures to be disposed of. Check out our Services page for more info.