Communicating with Inmates

Every facility has some kind of telephone system for inmate use. In most instances, the phone calls will be only collect calls. Since there are many inmates, and only a limited number of telephones, the calls are usually restricted to a maximum of fifteen minutes. In many federal prisons, there is a new system where an inmate has preapproved telephone numbers that he or she can call. The calls are not collect, but the charge is debited to the inmates account. To arrange all this takes time. Family members and friends should not be surprised if they do not hear anything for a few weeks after the person is first incarcerated.

Inmates also have access to mail. They can send and receive letters. Usually all incoming mail is first opened by the administration, except for legal mail (mail from an attorney, etc.).

As mentioned in the chapter 'Visiting and Family", it is very important to keep in touch with family and friends. Mail can sometimes take longer than what one is accustomed to. This can apply in both directions. Family and friends should also realize that the inmate cannot make a call whenever they want. Even if every week you receive a call at the same time, there is no guarantee that it will be the same next week. If there is a disturbance in a prison, sometimes it is 'locked down.' This means that all inmates are confined to their cells. All activities are suspended and each cell block eats meals at separate times. There are no telephone privileges at such times. Bearing all this in mind, the time of the actual telephone call should not be spent in the negative; 'why did you not call till now', etc. Use the time constructively. By doing so both the inmate and the family member or friend will feel a sense of accomplishment.

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