How to Write a Letter to Someone in Jail

When a loved one or someone you know goes to jail, it can be difficult to adapt to the reality of being unable to talk to them regularly. You can’t call, text, or email them as much as you’d like, and you may not be allowed to visit them every day. While writing a letter may not completely fill the void they have left in your life, it can help you keep them in your life. Letters are also a source of comfort for people behind bars and can serve as precious keepsakes. In this post, we look at all you need to know about How to Write a Letter to Someone in Jail.

General Rules of Writing to Someone in Jail

Just as people in jail face restricted movement policies, there are also rules that come with letter correspondence. Writing to an inmate is subject to many regulations and safety precautions, which you should learn about before sending your letter. Since the laws vary by state, the following list covers universal rules for sending letters to people in jail:

  • Use the appropriate envelope size.
  • Write your full name – not an alias – on the envelope and in the letter
  • Include your return address on the envelope (can be a post office address if you are concerned about safety).
  • Always indicate the full name of the inmate as well their prisoner’s ID number.
  • Don’t decorate the letter or envelop or include any stickers
  • Only include details you are comfortable sharing with other people because prison officials will inspect your letter.
  • Don’t put cologne, perfume, or any other fragrance on the letter
  • Never send a hardback or leather-bound copy of a book as they could be used to hurt someone

When it comes to sending letters to jail, it is best to err on the side of caution. Keep your letter simple and don’t include any decorations or attachments. Always start by visiting the jail website to learn the applicable rules and follow them to the letter.

Appropriate Elements in Letters to Someone in Jail

Generally, what you write in your letter will depend on your relationship with the inmate. However, if you are writing to a stranger – like a pen pal – you should monitor the content of your letter. Here are some details a letter to someone in jail should and should not include:

Letter Should Contain

  • The date the letter was sent
  • The inmate’s full name and prisoner’s ID
  • A clear, friendly greeting
  • An overview of recent events in your life (not too detailed)
  • Open-ended questions about the inmate
  • (Optional) A gift card for a holiday or birthday

Letter Should Not Contain

  • Details about a criminal offense or illegal activity
  • Homophobic or racially insensitive comments
  • Explicit or sexual content
  • A map or explanation that could be considered an escape plan
  • Information that could be used against the inmate in court
  • Content that could be regarded as threatening to national security
  • Cryptic codes or secret language
  • Questions about the inmate’s crime. It is best to let your pen pal open up when they wish to.

Note: Many people don’t feel comfortable including their home address on a letter to jail. If this sounds like you, use a work or post office address instead.

Safety Precautions When Writing to a Prisoner

If you are writing to a pen pal – an inmate you don’t know personally – you should be careful not to disclose personal information like your home address. Remember, you are not judging the inmate but erring on the side of caution and keeping yourself and your family safe. It is also important that you don’t mention details about the inmate’s ongoing case as prison letters are not privileged.

How to Write

Before you write your letter, you need to find out the inmate’s booking number and mailing address. You also need to familiarize yourself with the letter sending rules and policies in place at the jail. Acquiring this information requires that you visit the jail website. Once you have all you need, use this guide to prepare your letter:

Step 1: Identify the Recipient

Indicate the inmate’s full name and prisoner ID on the outside of the envelope. Follow this up with the jail’s mailing address, which you can get on the website.

Step 2: Identify the Sender (Yourself)

Write your full name and return address in the top right corner of the envelope. Check if the jail prohibits stickers and perfumed envelopes and do as instructed. Besides the sender and recipient addresses, keep the rest of the envelope clean.

Step 3: Pen Your Message

On a clean sheet of paper, greet the inmate and deliver your message. Remember that everything you write will be read by the prison staff and is not privileged information, so stick to the rules discussed in this article and provided by the jail.

Step 4: Follow Prison Guidelines

If you wish to attach something to the letter, refer to the rules provided on the website. Some jails prohibit items such as:

• Food, drinks, and candy

  • Checks and cash
  • Gang-related or sexually explicit pictures
  • Greeting cards

Step 5: Send Your Letter

Lastly, deposit your letter in the mail or at the post office and pay the total postage amount. Don’t send it through a delivery or courier service as the jail might refuse the delivery.

How to Make Sure That They Receive It

Once you complete your letter, you can ensure it reaches the recipient by:

  • Reviewing it for inappropriate content
  • Indicating the jail address, inmate’s ID, and full name on the envelope
  • Including your full name and a return address (can be a post office address)
  • Mailing your letter through the post office

Mailing a Letter Via Email to Someone in Jail

Inmates usually receive correspondence on printed paper, even if it was sent as an email. They also respond via handwritten letters. That said, nothing is stopping you from emailing your letter if you find it more convenient. Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1: Visit the jail’s website and find the email address, inmate’s ID number, and the jail’s emailing rules. Some jails regulate the length and regularity of email messages.

Step 2: Draft your email per the instructions provided on the website and be careful not to exceed the word or page limit.

Step 3: Proofread your email for any errors of information that officials could flag.


As someone who has never been jailed before, you may not be able to comprehend the loneliness of being behind bars. Inmates crave human contact and yearn to maintain a connection with the outside world. If this matters to you, learning How to Write a Letter to Someone in Jail is a great place to start. Remember to follow all the guidelines provided by the jail before mailing your letter.