How to Buy Food for Inmates

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The food in prisons is notoriously bad, and the jail commissary might sell only the barest of essentials to make life in prison a little more bearable. Most prisons prohibit inmates from receiving food gifts directly from friends and family members since packages could contain contraband items such as alcohol, weapons or drugs. Luckily, there are several authorized care package businesses that deliver preapproved food to prisons in tamper-proof packaging. These programs allow you to buy food for inmates and have it delivered directly to the correctional facility.

Understand Local Restrictions

Individual facilities are authorized to issue "local permits" to establish specific restrictions and conditions regarding care package deliveries. For example, a prison might restrict the quantity of certain items or specify how often an inmate can receive care packages. Typically, the limit is one package per quarter. While an authorized care package provider can take some of the guesswork out of shopping for you, it cannot know whether special restrictions are in place for each individual inmate. Plus, some prisons only accept packages from certain approved providers. It's best to check the rules with prison management before you buy.

Find the Inmate's ID Number

Generally, authorized care package deliveries are based on the inmate's identification number and not on name. You can ask the inmate or the correctional facility for the ID number or look it up on the state's department of corrections website. Most care package providers will link you to an online inmate ID lookup when you register for the service. Double-check the ID number before placing your order. It's unlikely that your order will be redirected or refunded if you send it to the wrong person after accidentally typing an incorrect recipient ID.

Select a Program

access securepak is the nation's largest care package program, featuring over 1,000 products such as branded food items and kosher- and halal-certified products. The program uses transparent "correctional-friendly" packages to eliminate contraband. is another nationwide service that delivers preapproved items to every county correctional facility in all 50 states. Other programs operate at the state level. State Shops New York, for example, delivers permissible items to inmates in the state of New York; Union Supply Direct does the same thing in Ohio. To find a local program, ask the prison, or type "care packages for inmates" and the name your state into a search engine.

Order Your Items

The process for placing an order is more or less the same across all care package providers. From the provider's website, select your state from the drop-down list, then select the correctional facility; facilities in the provider's network will appear in a second drop-down list. You'll be invited to register an account, including your details, credit card information and the inmate's ID number. After that, you can add items to your shopping cart. Most programs let you track your order status online and set up a recurring order that is automatically dispatched each quarter.