Originally Published June 3, 2020
Like everything else in prison, there are policies that govern an inmate’s finances. For one, inmates are not allowed to physically hold money. But they can have a trust fund account.
The inmate’s trust fund account is where they receive money and pay for stuff. As you may have expected, it is heavily regulated. They can only receive money from certain people. Similarly, all payments and withdrawals have to be approved by prison administrators.
So can an inmate send money to another inmate?
The rules vary per facility. In South Dakota, inmates are not allowed to send or receive money from other inmates unless authorized by the warden. The same policy is also enforced in Washington prisons. In Indiana, both inmates and prison staff are not allowed to do any financial transactions with other inmates. Anyone caught doing so may face disciplinary actions.
Some facilities are silent on the matter. But, in general, fund transfer between inmates is prohibited in state prisons and county jails.
Federal institutions, on the other hand, allow fund transfers between inmates provided that:
- they are from the same institution
- the inmates involved are close relatives
- the warden issues a written approval
Inmates from different federal correction facilities may also send funds to each other as long as the warden approves it in writing.
THE INMATE BANKING SYSTEM
As mentioned, financial transactions in prisons are heavily regulated.
Upon booking, all cash and other belongings of the inmate shall be confiscated and entered in a register. They are then assigned a non-interest bearing trust fund account which serves as their bank account while in prison. All income and earnings due to the inmate shall be credited to that account. This includes money from:
- Inmate Performance Pay
- UNICOR Pay (for federal inmates)
- Community Transition Program Earnings
- Deposits from outsiders
Some facilities only allow deposits from close relatives or an inmate’s contact list. So before you send money to an inmate, make sure to check with the facility first if you qualify.
All deposits and earnings are reviewed by prison administrators before they are credited to the inmate’s account. Disapproved deposits are usually returned to the sender on the inmate’s expense.
The money in the inmate’s trust fund account shall be used to pay for expenses such as:
- commissary purchases
- payment of medical co-payment
- purchase of mail-order items from accredited vendors
- other purchases approved by the facility
- court-ordered child support
- court filing fees
When an offender is transferred from one facility to another, the funds will also be transferred to their new trust fund account. Any remaining funds on their account are also given to the inmate upon release.
In most facilities, the inmate’s trust fund account is separate from their phone account. The process of sending money to an inmate’s phone account might differ from sending money for commissary.
CAN AN INMATE SEND MONEY HOME?
Most jails and prisons allow inmates to send money to family members at home. It’s their money afterall. They may not be able to physicaly hold it but they can direct where it goes.
The inmate will just have to put in a request for withdrawal. In California prisons, inmates will have to fill-up a Trust Account Form. It contains the prisoner’s ID number, housing information, where to send the money, and for what reason. They will then put it in a state envelope and drop it in mail boxes scattered around the facility.
Once approved, the inmate will receive a notice stating their trust account balance and transactions.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Judy Ponio is a firm believer in the power of sharing knowledge. Having extensive experience in the prison industry, she wants to share what she knows with the world. Judy also loves to write about political and legal topics.