Just because a person is serving time, it doesn't mean that his friends and family can't surprise him with gifts of food on occasion. However, this food can't be from his mama's Thanksgiving dinner or the inmate's favorite barbecue shack because most prisons require food packages to come from approved vendors or the in-prison commissary store. Additionally, there may also be limits on when these packages can be delivered as well as their weights and overall values.
Restrictions on Food Orders
Although most prisons routinely allow inmates to receive food orders from the outside, some put restrictions on such deliveries. For example, in New York, inmates are limited to two food packages per month, and the combined weight cannot exceed 35 pounds. Some states permit food deliveries only during a specific window of time; for example, South Carolina allows prisoners to receive food packages during its fall and spring package programs. During its spring package program, food orders can only be received between March 24th and May 30th, and if delivered by mail, the postmark date cannot be after April 24th. Also in South Carolina, the value of delivered food cannot exceed $150. In Michigan, inmates can only receive one food order per calendar quarter, and the weight cannot exceed 30 pounds, while the value can't exceed $85.
Correctional facilities typically require that outside food be ordered and delivered through an approved vendor. This means an inmate's mother can't cook her son's favorite tuna casserole, and then bring it to the prison during her next visit or send it via mail. Instead, she must use an approved third-party vendor. For example, in Ohio, inmates and their families and friends must order food from Union Supply Direct or Access Securepak. This restriction also means that inmates are limited to the type of food products supplied by these vendors. In Michigan, food orders can only be placed with Access Securepak. Some vendors provide online ordering.
Family and friends of inmates can also deposit money into the inmate's prison account, where he can use the funds to purchase food and other household items, like soap and toothpaste, from the prison store, or commissary. This account is commonly known as an inmate's commissary account and carries certain restrictions. For example, in Texas, friends and family can deposit up to $300 at a time. They can also purchase up to $50 in goods from the commissary for an inmate once every quarter. In Michigan, inmates can spend up to $100 at the commissary every two weeks. Deposit methods vary with each prison; however, many permit deposits by mail, in person at the prison, or online.
Restrictions on Receiving Food
An inmate's status may disqualify him from receiving food orders. For example, South Carolina prohibits certain inmates from receiving food orders, including juveniles incarcerated for less than 60 days and inmates on disciplinary detention. In Ohio, disqualified inmates include those serving less than 90 days in prison, as well as those assigned to a medical facility or those who are under disciplinary control.
- New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision: Handbook for the Families and Friends of New York State DOCCS Offenders
- South Carolina Department of Corrections: Inmate Package Program
- Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: Offender Mail and Packages
- Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction: Inmate Personal Property
- Michigan Department of Corrections: Securepak Program - How it Works
- Access Surepak: Michigan, FAQs
Based on the West Coast, Mary Jane Freeman has been writing professionally since 1994, specializing in the topics of business and law. Freeman's work has appeared in a variety of publications, including LegalZoom, Essence, Reuters and Chicago Sun-Times. Freeman holds a Master of Science in public policy and management and Juris Doctor. Freeman is self-employed and works as a policy analyst and legal consultant.