Contacting an inmate in a county jail or a state or federal prison can be relatively simple, even though many inmates have restrictions upon when, how and with whom they can communicate. Some inmates are allowed to send and receive letters to strangers. Others may not receive messages from anyone except their attorney. These conditions may depend largely on where and why the inmate is being held.
Identify where the inmate is incarcerated. If you do not know, call the correctional agency that you think is most likely to be responsible for the inmate. For instance, an inmate convicted of a state crime in Florida would most likely be held by the Florida Department of Corrections. You also can enter this information into that agency's website, available through The Inmate Locator database.
Learn the procedures specific to the institution in which the inmate is held. Every facility and jurisdiction has its own policies about contacting an inmate. Most list their procedures on their websites, but some will supply them only over the phone.
Write a letter to the inmate. Most inmates can receive written letters. Usually, the letter must be addressed to the inmate using his name, inmate number and the the name of the facility in which he is being housed. Most state prisoners are not allowed to send or receive email, but some federal prisoners are given limited email access.
Try to arrange a phone call. Almost all inmates are unable to receive incoming calls, but you may be able to arrange to have the inmate call you by providing your name and telephone number. Inmates are often allowed a short list of people whom they are authorized to call. Calls are usually limited in duration.
Try to arrange a visit. Many inmates are allowed visiting privileges, so you can also contact them in person. The hours and conditions of visits vary by institution. Often, both the warden and the inmate will have to approve your visit beforehand.
- Inmates placed under various specialized types of confinement, such as those in solitary confinement or on death row, may have more restricted access to outside communication.
- Most messages will be monitored and reviewed by correctional authorities, with the exception of a prisoner's communications with his legal counsel. Those are usually protected from inspection by privacy laws.
- When trying to find an inmate, be prepared to provide as much information as you can about him. This includes his full name, date of birth, date and place of his conviction and his last known place of incarceration.
- In the event of a death or emergency within the inmate's family, many institutions offer exceptions to these rules. Contact the jail or prison and notify it of the situation. Someone at the prison will usually pass word to the inmate or advise you of the proper procedure to do so yourself.
- If you wish to start a correspondence with an inmate you do not know, many websites, such as meet-an-inmate.com, allow you to find willing pen pals within the correctional system.