Arizona is home to 48 state prisons and five federal prisons, with the total number of prison inmates in the state reaching the tens of thousands. If you have a loved one among those inmates, you might want to reach out every once and a while with a letter – but perhaps you're not sure where to start. Here's how to go about crafting a letter to an Arizona prison inmate.
Find the Right Address
First thing's first: Make sure you're posting your letter to the correct mailing address. If the inmate to whom you're writing is incarcerated in a public prison run by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), you can head to the ADC's inmate datasearch webpage and run a search on the inmate. This can help you confirm the location of the inmate's prison, so you know you're sending your letter to the right place.
Most prisons require that you include the receiving inmate's booking number on the addressed envelope, in which cases you should be able to track down the number on the ADC's datasearch page, as well. As for the inmate's exact mailing address, note that the ADC provides this address to each of its inmates, and it's the inmates' job to communicate the address to their loved ones on the outside. Still, if the person you're writing to hasn't provided you with an exact mailing address, feel free to give the prison's main office a call to see if you can wrangle it.
Know the Rules
The ADC doesn't limit the amount of mail an inmate can receive, as long as the mail meets a set of requirements put forth by the department. You can find this full set of requirements on the ADC's website in the department order for inmate mail, but a few of the rules include:
- Inmates can't receive mail from released offenders who are still under community supervision by the ADC, unless it's an immediate family member.
- Inmates can't receive mail from minors who aren't the inmate's natural or adopted child, or who don't have prior written approval from a parent or guardian.
- Inmates can't receive mail from a victim of the crime for which the inmate is incarcerated, if the victim has made a "no inmate mail" request.
Keep in mind that the ADC's mail room staff keeps a record of all the mail each inmate sends and receives, including names and addresses and detailed descriptions of each piece of mail's contents. Any mail you send to the prison can and will be inspected for contraband.
Craft the Letter
Posting letters is one of the most personal ways to keep in consistent contact with an inmate, especially considering that the ADC doesn't cap the number of letters an inmate can receive or send. Still, you might not know what exactly to put in a letter to an inmate, especially if it's your first time writing one. Consider asking open-ended questions and keeping with a positive tone in your letter, and including photographs or other appropriate printed material, if the prison you're writing to allows it. Otherwise, keep the following tips in mind while you're putting your thoughts on paper:
- Be honest about how often you can write, so as not to give your loved one an unrealistic idea of how frequently she'll hear from you.
When asking questions, ask about her day and hobbies
– avoid bringing up the case or crime unless she seems to want to talk about it.
* Share tidbits of life on the outside to help bridge the gap between her and the outside world.
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- If you cannot find the person’s name in the inmate data search or need other questions answered, call Inmate Family and Friends Services at (602) 364-3945.
- When in doubt about something, err on the side of caution and don’t send it. You can also call the number above to double-check specific items.
- Photos are okay, but keep in mind people other than the recipient will be looking at them. Don’t send naked pictures.
- Don’t draw doodles all over the envelope. Keep it as plain and utilitarian as possible.
- Don’t expect an immediate response. Massive delays can happen when sending things to any prison. After all, people have to sort through all the stuff to make sure nothing bad gets in.
Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She covers topics including environment, education, agriculture, travel, immigration and religion. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, Calif., and holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University. Swanston is an avid traveler and loves jazz, yoga and craft beer.
Illustration by Ryn Gargulinski