By Christopher Zoukis
If you have a loved one or friend who is incarcerated, you may be wondering how to best send them monetary resources. This can be important, as prisoners often need money for essentials including for phone time and computer use, including to receive, read, and send emails on a secure system (this does not grant Internet access), as well as buy supplies such as supplementary food, medical supplies, and even pads or tampons.
The commissary may also sell items such as books and magazines, or writing supplies such as paper and writing utensils. A percentage of the money in their account may also be used to pay fees or restitution. Any funds received will go a great way to supplementing the money that may be earned when an inmate is assigned to a work detail. While they may earn an hourly wage, this can be quite low – sometimes just a few cents an hour.
While thinking of how best to send money, it’s also important to keep in mind how much the inmate may really need – not enough money, and they could do without some essential hygiene products, too much, and they could be targets for others, although the amount they are able to access weekly may be limited. Also, be wary of requests from other inmates, or to send resources to other inmates.
There are a number of different ways to send your loved ones money for their commissary or telecom accounts. This may also depend on the correctional institution that your loved one is in. Federal, state and local institutions may have different regulations or restrictions, and private contract facilities may have their own regulations too. There may also be certain regulations that have to be followed on the side of the receiver- such as ensuring the account is set up properly, and approved to receive payments from outside the facility.
Restrictions may exist over who is allowed to make deposits, so ensure that you qualify. There may also be maximum limits on deposits. In general these guidelines and suggestions may prove helpful, but please ensure that you contact or look up the guidelines for the relevant institutions to ensure you are following the correct procedures.
There are three ways to send funds to inmates, to be deposited into their personal commissary accounts, or phone accounts, at a Federal Bureau of Prisons institution. To send money electronically, you can choose to send via MoneyGram or Western Union. Using either of these forms will ensure prompt payment to the commissary account, generally within four hours. It is important to ensure all of the correct information is included.
You may also be able to access these services in other ways, such as by phone, or in person from an agent. You can also send funds via post through the United States Postal Service. This must be done through a money order only, not a personal cheque, cash, or including any additional items. The money order must include the inmates’ full name, as well as their complete eight digit register number. The money order should then be sent to the central processing center in Iowa.
While the BOP may not accept personal cheques, other institutions may. In California, for example, you should be able to send money with a personal or cashier cheque via lock box, as well as using an electronic funds transfer, or by post. In Illinois, inmates may receive money via Global Tel*Link, JPAY, Western Union or money order. In Orange County, Fla., you cannot use a personal cheque, but you can deposit money in person at the Video Visitation Center. Clark County, Nev., accepts debit and credit transactions via Touchpay.
Besides MoneyGram and Western Union, there are other electronic services you may be able to use, including JPay, and Access Corrections. Depending on where you and the inmate are, there may be more or less options. It is worth exploring these options to see which have the best delivery times, ease of use, fees for use, and what other services, such as email, may be offered.
There are also other ways to connect with loved ones who are incarcerated. You may be able to send emails or letters, conduct video visitations, visit in person, or send books and supplies to the institution they are located at. Again, it is important to check the specific rules and guidelines of each institution, as they can vary widely across level of facility, and state by state.
Christopher Zoukis is the author of College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014) and Prison Education Guide (Prison Legal News Publishing, 2016). He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.com, PrisonEducation.com and PrisonLawBlog.com