How to Write a Letter to a Relative in Prison

Updated February 21, 2017

Having a family member incarcerated for any period of time can be stressful and dispiriting. While only some prisoners have access to e-mail or the Internet, you can keep up communications with your family through written letters. Unless your relative is being punished for an infraction, he or she is probably free to receive mail at the prison. Keep in mind, however, that some prisons monitor correspondence, and your letter may be opened and read before it is received. It's never a good idea to discuss an ongoing case or appeal in a letter that will be read by prison officials.

Locate your relative's prisoner number and relevant personal info. Use the Ministry of Justice's Prisoner Location Service if you need assistance (See References).

Find the proper address for your relative's prison. Again, the Ministry of Justice website has a list of all prisons and relevant info. Most prisons have individual websites with the full address listing. Include your family member's entire name, prisoner number, name of the prison and full address when you address the envelope.

Update your family member on what is happening with your family or friends to help him maintain ties while incarcerated. Keep it informative, i.e. "Cousin Claire had her baby this week," but take care not to go overboard describing family activities in which your son cannot participate, i.e. a large family trip to Spain.

Provide encouragement. Reassure your relative that he is strong enough to serve his time. Encourage him to make the most of prison by participating in educational, religious or recreational activities offered.

Ask your relative if he needs or wants anything. Many prisoners can receive credit at the commissary or items such as magazines. Offer these if you are in a position to send them.

Remember that it's OK to tell your family member how much you miss him, or even that you're disappointed in him for the incarceration. Be honest and straightforward about how you're feeling, but do not make this the majority of the letter. Doing so can be overly frustrating and cause him to lose morale in prison.

Include information on when you will visit, if you are able. This gives your relative something to look forward to.

Save major news, such as a close relative dying, for a phone call or an in-person visit, if these are allowed. A letter is not ideal for such news because the recipient has no one in the family to react to or grieve with after hearing the information.

Sign off by assuring your relative that you love and miss him and will write again soon.

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About the Author

Tallulah Philange has worked as a journalist since 2003. Her work has appeared in the "Princeton (N.J.) Packet," "Destinations" magazine and in higher education publications. She also has edited and produced online content for those publications. Philange holds a Bachelor of Arts in print journalism from American University and a Master of Arts in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown University.