Send Money to an Inmate in Jail or Prison

How to Send Money to an Inmate in Jail or Prison

Inmates in US jails and prisons have access to essential supplies to keep them comfortable, safe, and healthy throughout their incarceration. For this, they do not need money for their stay behind bars. Still, if an inmate requires hygiene items, toiletries, electronics, and snacks not provided to all offenders, they can buy them at the correctional facility’s canteen. That’s why most US jails and prisons allow friends and loved ones to send money to an inmate. They grant it as a privilege to inmates based on their conduct, security risk and custody levels, and if there is an emergency. 

Note that US currency is considered contraband in the US prison system. Hence, inmates are prohibited from possessing banknotes or coins in their housing facilities. Instead, inmates can receive money from friends and family via individual trust fund/commissary accounts to purchase items from the prison canteen. Likewise, visitors who pass hard cash to inmates risk getting arrested and losing their visiting privileges. 

The first deposit into the inmate trust fund is the money seized from the inmate during the booking process. Then, family and friends may add funds to the inmate’s account using the deposit channels allowed by the correctional facility. Then, do you need to send money to an inmate? Here is a quick guide to get you started:- 

Why Send Money to an Inmate 

Here are five reasons why you should send money to an inmate: – 

  1. Facilitate Inmate Discretionary Spending – Send money to an inmate for purchasing medication, electronics, stationery, snacks, and other personal items on sale at the prison canteen. 
  2. Pay a Restitution Fine or Direct Order – Inmates need money to pay for restitution, fees, and other administrative charges. Likewise, parolees may want to pay for direct order collections. 
  3. To Facilitate Family Visits – An inmate may want to buy snacks and toiletries for his family during a social visit. 
  4. Pay for Phone Calls – Family and friends deposit money into the inmate’s telephone account to pay for phone calls, emails, and computer tablet services 
  5. Cater for Temporary Community Leave – Inmates on work release programs require money to facilitate their stay out of prison for up to 14 hours while undertaking community job or on-the-job training. Other inmates gain temporary community leaves to attend vocational training, furlough leave, medical treatment, or community service. 

The Trust Account Deposit Methods 

Most US jails and prisons contract a vendor to facilitate all transactions into and out of an inmate trust fund. Hence, the available deposit methods vary from one vendor to another as follows: – 

  1. Walk-In Cash Deposits  

Walk-In deposits are in form of cash, debit card, or credit card deposits at the lock boxes stationed at the correctional facility’s kiosk lobby or walk-in retail locations of the contracted vendor. For example, a prison or jail that contracts ConnectNetwork /GTL Financial Services allows family and friends to deposit cash at 26,000 walk-in retail locations nationwide. The same applies to jails and prisons that accept cash through MoneyGram, Western Union, JPay, agent locations, and Access Corrections. Such options are convenient for families since the locations are at popular shopping stores like Walmart, Kroger, and ACE.   

Using Walk-In Retail Locations 

  • Sign in to the vendor’s website via the website or mobile app 
  • Select cash payments 
  • Choose your preferred Walk-In Retail outlet 
  • Follow the instructions to set up how much you want to send in cash or using your debit or credit card 
  • Bring the cash, debit, or credit card and auto-generated deposit slip to the walk-in retail outlet 
  • Submit the cash or pay using your debit or credit card to the agent  

Walk-in cash deposits attract a fee varying from one vendor to another, depending on the amount of cash deposit.   

Using Lock Boxes 

  • Go to the jail or prison kiosk lobby 
  • Fill out the deposit form for cash, money order, or cashier’s check 
  • Make the cash payable to the correctional facility or the contracted vendor, as per the available instructions 
  • Submit the cash, money order, or cashier’s check to the trust fund staff/prison cashier 

Using Jail ATMs/Stellar Tellers 

Stellar Tellers are automated jail account systems stationed at the jail or prison entrance. These ATM-like machines accept cash deposits using physical currencies, debit or credit cards, including internationally-recognized credit and debit cards. A deposit fee applies to each transaction.   

  1. Mail Deposits –  Cashier’s Checks & Money Orders 

Second, you can deposit money to the inmate’s trust fund account via mail. The most common mail deposits accepted by US jails and prison are via US Postal Service Money Order or Cashier’s Check. Here are the steps for making a mail deposit below: – 

  • Make the money order or cashier’s check payable to the contracted vendor or correctional facility, as per the set guidelines 
  • Fill out the deposit slip for the money order or cashier’s check, including the inmate’s full name, DOC number, assigned institution, and the remitter’s full name and address 
  • Send the money order or cashier’s check with the deposit slip to the contracted vendor’s address or the jail lobby or drop it off at the jail lobby during a scheduled visit, depending on the current regulations 
  • The envelope should be postmarked from an area within the approved sender’s residence 

Most vendors process mailed checks and money order deposits within one to 10 business days of receipt. The deposits attract no additional fee apart from the cost for obtaining the cashier’s check or money order. 

  1. Phone Deposits – Phone Calls & Mobile App 

There are two ways to make phone deposits into an inmate’s trust fund account. First, download the contracted vendor’s free mobile app and make transactions into the inmate’s trust fund account anytime from anywhere. Second, call the contracted vendor’s toll-free number and follow the prompts or speak to a live agent to deposit money over the phone. You will need your credit or debit card and an Android or iOS device. Phone deposits attract a fee that varies depending on the amount deposited and from one vendor to the next. 

  1. Online Deposits – Electronic Funds Transfers & Money Transfer Agents 

Finally, family and friends may deposit money into an inmate’s trust fund account via bank electronic funds transfer or money transfer agents as follows: – 

  • Log in to the participating bank, vendor, or money transfer agent’s website 
  • Follow the instructions provided 
  • Use your debit or credit card to pay 

Most jails and prisons limit the amount you can deposit into the inmate’s trust fund online. Further, some correctional facilities restrict online deposits to commissary or restitution purposes only. Online deposits reflect in an inmate’s trust fund within 1 to 3 business days. The paid service attracts a fee that varies depending on the amount and service provider. 

Funding Inmate Telephone Accounts – Phone Plans 

Apart from depositing funds into inmate commissary accounts, family and friends may top-up inmate prepaid telephone accounts to facilitate receiving inmate collect calls. The inmate telephone accounts are by contracted vendors like AdvancePay, JPay, and Access Corrections. Here, you will need to know at least the inmate’s DOC number or state ID number and current facility. The procedure for adding money to an inmate’s telephone account varies from one contracted vendor to the other. Here are the general steps: – 

  • Apply to be added to the inmate’s approved calling list 
  • Sign up for an inmate telephone account 
  • Set up your prepaid phone plan 
  • Deposit money into the inmate’s prepaid phone account or inmate’s PIN debit account 

Using Inmate Lookup to Send Money to an Inmate 

Finally, you can send money to an inmate in jail or prison via the inmate lookup system. Here, most correctional facilities provide a link to their inmate locators, allowing families and friends to locate an inmate and initiate a deposit online into their trust fund accounts. Here are the general steps: – 

  • Go to the correctional facility’s official website 
  • Open the Offender Search page 
  • Use the search query form to locate the inmate 
  • Find the link for sending money to the inmate at the bottom of the search results 
  • Follow the instructions provided to deposit funds into the inmate’s trust fund account 

Most inmate locators require you to provide at least the offender’s name and DOC number. Then, take note of the current location, housing assignment, and cash limit to send the money correctly.   

Sending Money to an Inmate FAQs 

  1. Do the jail or prison provide family and friends with a history of financial transactions of the inmate’s trust fund account? 

No. Financial transactions into an inmate’s trust fund account are considered confidential. Contact the jail or prison administration for assistance.  

  1. What financial instruments are acceptable or not acceptable as negotiable instruments by US jails or prisons? 

Here is a list of the most common acceptable negotiable instruments in the US prison system: – 

  • Money orders 
  • US Government checks 
  • Business checks 
  • Foreign checks payable in US dollars and to a US correspondent bank and routing number 
  • Bank drafts, certified checks, and cashier’s checks 

The following negotiable instruments are not accepted in the US prison system: –  

  • Cash/US currency sent through the mail 
  • Personal checks 
  • Negotiable instruments with expired dates, alterations, or look suspicious 
  • Mail deposits lacking the sender’s information, inmate name, and inmate DOC number 
  • Counter checks 
  • Foreign financial instruments not payable in US dollars or lacking a US correspondent bank and routing number 
  1. Can I send money to more than one inmate in the same correctional facility? 

Yes. Only, you will need to seek prior approval from the correctional facility.  

  1. Can an inmate lose their privilege to receive money from family and friends? 

Yes. Inmates may lose their privilege to receive money if they pose a security risk or change their custody level to one not eligible for such right.  

  1. Can an inmate receive money from a parolee, probationer, or another inmate from a different correctional facility? 

No. The money goes to a HOLD account until the inmate is released. Funds in a HOLD account attract a confinement/restitution surcharge. Hence, upon release, the inmate is entitled to what remains after deducting the surcharge.  


Until recently, most US jails and prisons accepted cash deposits only via the correctional facility’s cashier’s office. Now, advancing money transfer technology gives more choices to family and friends on how to send money to an inmate. Then, if you wish to deposit money into an inmate’s trust fund, contact the correctional facility to know the money transfer options available.