How to Address an Envelope to an Inmate

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How a party should address an envelope to an inmate depends on the correctional institution in which the inmate is being held. The party should look up the jail or prison in which the inmate is being held. The website of the correctional institution should contain specific instructions for addressing envelopes to inmates.

Handwrite and Use a Complete Name

The party should handwrite the sender’s and recipient’s names and addresses on the envelope. The party should write the inmate’s complete name and not use nicknames. The party should include the inmate’s identifying number from the correctional institution. For example, an inmate in a California state prison will have a California Department of Corrections (CDC) number. If the party does not have an identifying number for the inmate to whom she wished to write, she should call the correctional institution to request it.

Order Depends On the Institution

For the recipient’s address, the correctional institution’s rules determine which should be stated first, the inmate’s name and number or the name of the correctional institution. The order differs by institution. For example, the Leon County Detention Facility in Tallahassee, Florida provides the correct order is “Leon County Detention Facility, Inmate Name, (System Person Number).” The Springfield Municipal Jail in Springfield, Oregon provides the correct order is “Inmate Name and AIRS number, Springfield Municipal Jail.”

State the Correctional Institution

The party should provide the name and street address or post office box of the institution. The party should also provide the city, state, and zip code of the institution. The party should provide his name and return address on the envelope. A correctional institution may not deliver or hold inmate mail without a return address.

The street or physical address of the institution may be different than the mailing address of the institution. An inmate may be held at a specific facility within an institution. For example, for Wasco State Prison-Reception Center in Wasco, California, inmates are housed in facilities A through H. A party should provide the inmate’s last known housing in the address. Here is an example: “John Doe, CDC number, Wasco State Prison-Reception Center, Facility A, 701 Scofield Ave, P.O. Box 4400, Wasco, CA 93280.”

Do Not Use Labels or Tape

A correctional institution may remove labels before delivering the letter to the inmate. Without a return address, the inmate may not be able to reply to the sender. Some correctional institutions do not deliver envelopes with tape or stickers on or inside the envelope. A label may be considered a sticker.

Rules Differ for Immigrants and Juveniles

When sending a letter to a detainee at an immigration detention center, a party should provide the detainee’s full name followed by the last four digits of the detainee’s Alien Number (A-number). When sending a letter to a juvenile in a state detention program, a party should provide the name of the juvenile correctional facility in which the juvenile is being housed.

What Mail Won’t Be Accepted

Mail from a juvenile or adult inmate at a correctional facility, corrections-monitored facility or treatment center is usually not accepted. Mail from a person acting as a go-between for inmates may not be accepted. Mail between the victim of the crime for which the inmate is in custody may not be accepted.

Mail Is Opened and Inspected

Letters that fall under the category of general correspondence are usually opened and inspected for contraband before being forwarded to the inmate. Some correctional institutions classify mail as belonging to a category called “special incoming mail.” This type of mail can be opened only in the presence of the inmate. It also will be inspected for contraband.

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About the Author

Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.