Resources‎ > ‎

Practical Tips For Friends and Family of a Federal Inmate

This guide provides important instructions on mail, phone calls, gifts, visits, and emergency notification for federal prisoners.


1.  Obtain the inmate register number

First, visit and select “Inmate Locator.”  Search by first and last name to get institution name and inmate register number. 

2.  Obtain the facility mailing address

Use the “Facility Locator” at to find the mailing address for the institution obtained in step #1 above. 

3.  Address your envelope

Make sure you include the full name and inmate register number above the mailing address (which is not always the same as the physical address).

Mail is monitored for any items that pose a risk to the security and order of the institution, and for evidence of criminal activity.

Books and Magazines

You can mail paperwork, newspapers, magazines, and paperback books in large envelopes using media mail.  Limit them to 3 per package and write the titles on the outside of the package.

Hardcover books can only be sent from a publisher or book store. is a great source for hardcover books, paperbacks, and magazines.

The warden will reject material deemed a risk to the security and order of the institution, or any material that facilitates criminal activity.

Money (No Other Gifts Permitted)

The federal prison system requires inmates to purchase personal hygiene items, clothing, stationery, food, stamps, and phone calls from a commissary account.  No gifts can be mailed in, other than paperback books and magazines.

Western Union is the easiest and quickest way to deposit money.  You need the name and inmate register number to use the "Quick Collect Form."
    Recipient:  Inmate Name, Inmate Register Number US BOP
    City Code: FBOP
    State: DC

Money orders can be mailed to:
Federal Bureau of Prisons
Inmate Name, Inmate Register Number
Post Office Box 474701
Des Moines, Iowa 50947-0001

Inmates DO NOT get notification of who deposited money, so please write  a letter with the amount and date of the donation.

If an prisoner is making restitution payments, he or she might lose 50% or more of the money you deposit towards my regular financial payments.  (In some cases, it makes more sense to have gifts directed to a family member on the outside.)

Phone Calls

It will several days for a newly received prisoner to get an inmate phone account for outgoing calls.

Prisoners can only call phone numbers on a pre-approved list.  It takes at least a week for a new number to be approved.

Phone calls involve long lines and a limited times so prisoners need to be efficient and plan ahead.   When you give out your phone number, write down the times that you are available.

Phone calls are limited to 15 minutes per call, up to 300 minutes per month.  If you talk for a portion of the 15 minute limit, the prisoner can’t call again for a designated time.  When time is up, you will be cut off with no notice and the prisoner will be unable to call the same number again for a designated time.  Don’t panic if we get disconnected.

The prison has strict rules against 3-way calls and using speaker phone is considered a violation of the 3-way rule.  Prisoners can only talk person-to-person.

Emergency Notification

If there is an emergency, family can call the institution and provide the prisoner's name, inmate number, name of the afflicted family member, name of the hospital or funeral home, and a telephone number.  The institution chaplain will notify the prisoner and give him or her a chance to return the phone call.  This process often takes several days.  Whether the inmate is granted furlough will be up to the warden.

Visiting (Weekends and Holidays)

Visitors need to be pre-approved by the prison and have established a relationship with the inmate prior to incarceration.  Request that a prisoner mail you a visiting form if you are interested in getting on the list.

On the day of your visit, arrive at least 30 minutes early to get in line to be processed in.  It’s a shame to waste your visit time in the lobby, so arrive as early as possible and beat the crowd.

Bring $40 in quarters in a clear bag to spend in the vending machines.  Lock everything in the car except for your ID, car keys, and bag of quarters.

Before you leave home, check out the current dress code and visitor regulations for your prisoner's institution at  Items such as underwire bras, open-toed shoes, bare shoulders, hooded sweatshirts, and much more may well be prohibited by institutional rules.