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Choosing the Right Gift

giving the perfect gift to an inmate

Getting the perfect gift for your loved one can be a challenge for anyone; however, getting the right gift for a loved one in prison can seem as elusive as a mythical creature. Even if you know exactly what they want or need, gifts are limited by the prison rules, state and federal guidelines. These limitations can make it difficult for families to celebrate the holidays.

As frustrating as it may be to navigate these restrictions, there are several ways to get your loved one a great gift while staying within the parameters set by their institution.

A Handwritten Card

Get the family involved in the gift-giving process with a hand-written letter to your loved one. Use the site if you need help locating an address or location to mail things to them. 


Books are an excellent gift to give your loved one since they can be re-read endlessly. For this reason, books are a favorite gift for many inmates. Be sure to not send books with anything explicit as it may not be permitted. 


writing a letter to an inmate

Give a Meal

While it may not seem like a lot, ordering a meal through their commissary is a thoughtful way to celebrate a birthday, holiday or anniversary with someone. You can use an online resource such as to order a customized gift for your loved one in prison. 

Send a Care Package

Using a third-party to ship items that are already approved by the institution is a safe way to choose a gift for your loved one in prison. A few sites to use are: and  

Homemade Snacks

Share the joy of the holidays with your loved one in prison this year. Fill a container with their favorite homemade snacks and mail it to them or take it with you for your next visit. 

Framed Picture

Framing a picture of you and your family will help them feel more connected to you. Make sure your picture frame complies with the prison gift regulations before you mail it to them. 

Make a Handmade Christmas Ornament

Don’t forget your loved one this holiday season. When you are decorating your Christmas tree, get the family together and make a handmade ornament or other Christmas decorations for them. Make sure it complieswith the prison regulations. 

Give the Gift of Music

If you want to give a loved one a gift that keeps on giving, consider buying them their favorite album. Since many prisons offer music services on tablets, there are multiple ways to get this done. Like always, make sure you know the rules of the prison first.

A Magazine Subscription

This is another great way for your loved one to stay connected to the world and give a gift that keeps giving. Check with the specific institution on the list of approved magazines that they are able to receive.

While this is not comprehensive, here is a list of some additional gifts most prisons will allow. Before you purchase, it is a good idea to check with the institution first. 

List of acceptable gifts:

Clothes and footwear, most types of photographs, food packages, cosmetics/hygiene products, bed sheets and covers, most books and magazines, art supplies, and musical instruments. 

Some prohibited gifts:

Gifts made of metal, gifts in code or symbols, gifts with sharp edges, magazines or books with explicit content. 

For your loved one in prison, including them in special moments like birthdays and holidays means the world to them. Giving your time and thoughtfulness is one of the most important things you can do to help your loved one on the road to a successful re-entry.