Has your family member been sent to prison? If so, this event has likely been shocking and incredibly upsetting. You may be wondering how you can keep in touch with your loved ones during this time if it’s possible to send over a few of their personal items or possibly see them in person at a later date. All of these questions will be answered in this article and more.

Finding Your Family Member’s Contact Details

As soon as one of your loved ones enters jail or prison, it may not be apparent how to speak to them, where they’re located, or how to acquire their contact details. All prisons and jails issue a number to each inmate, which is required for sending mail and setting up visiting times.

Example: Florida (Polk County Jail)

In Florida, it’s required for all mail to include the inmate’s last name, first name, DC number, institution name (in this case Polk County Jail), and the institution’s full address. Use the Polk County inmate locator to find your family’s contact details so you can stay in touch.

How to Stay in Touch With a Family Member in Prison or Jail

Speak to Them by Phone

One of the easiest ways to stay in touch with a family member is by phone, but you’ll need to go through a few steps before an inmate can call you directly.

Inmates may not be able to contact you by phone until they are settled into prison or jail. After sentencing, inmates can put a set number of family members or friends on their phone list. When these numbers are approved, they can call you. If you’re worried your family member doesn’t have your phone number, send your digits to them in the mail.

A few things you should know about phoning an inmate:

  • Inmates can only make outgoing calls. You can’t phone the jail yourself.
  • Inmates can’t phone at any time during the day. Your family members will be able to call after the morning count. Phone privileges are taken away at night or if the inmate is in solitary confinement or is receiving some other disciplinary action.
  • Only landlines can connect to a prison phone.
    • Unless you use something like PrisonConnect (which transfers phone calls to a cell phone), you must use a landline to accept a collect call.
    • You can also bypass the collect call if you deposit funds into the inmate’s account.
  • All phone calls are monitored and recorded.
  • Phone calls are cut off after a few minutes.

To ensure the phone call goes smoothly, write down what you want to say and schedule when your next phone call will be so you’ll be home to pick up the phone.

Send Digital Messages or Mail

Some jails will let you converse with your family members by email or text message. However, all jails and prisons will let you send a letter to an inmate as long as it follows the rules. For example, an inmate can only have up to 15 pages of additional written materials in a greeting card in most jails or prisons. For a complete list of what’s allowed, visit the jail or prison website.

You can send gifts, like books or magazines, from a third-party website like Amazon.

Know that all mail could be read out loud to the inmate if the warden feels that something illegal is written on the paper. Never send pornography or drug contraband.

Scheduling Visits

In-person and video visits allow you to talk and see your loved one, and that connection can be incredibly important for your family member during this time. The pandemic has limited in-person visits, but it’s still possible to see and speak to them over a video conference call. 

There are fewer regulations if you meet over the Internet. If you decide to meet your loved ones in person, it’s essential to read the rules of the jail or prison in question. Failure to follow these rules will deny you entry and possibly put up additional barriers in the future.