How to mail books to prisons or jails?

 Before placing your order, you should know:


  1. What types of books can be sent that prison or jail?
  2. What are the restrictions on your inmate receiving books?
  3. What kind of vendor can send books to that prison or jail?

There is no one perfect rule for mailing books to those in prison.  Each prison system and county jail has set its own regulations for inmate books, magazines etc. To successfully buy publications for inmates, family and friends need to understand several kinds of regulations and limitations.

IMailToPrison & The Paperback Shop strive to know and apply these regulations; however, it is ultimately the customer’s responsibility to order publications that inmates will be allowed to receive.  We guarantee delivery to the facility, not that the inmate will be allowed any specific publication

Regulations to know when ordering books for an inmate.

Inmate ID numbers almost always required.

Classification Matters:  Some prison systems have regulations based on the security classification, and occasionally the specific unit type. Security classification can determine how many, what kind and from whom books can be received and what can be retained.

Limits by type of publication:

  • Paperback preferred:  Many prisons and jails allow only softcover books to inmates.
  • Spiral bindings: Wire and plastic bindings are denied just about everywhere. We do not include these in Our Catalog.
  • Padded covers are often denied, as can be pop-up books and other specific restrictions, including publications with stickers.  TDCJ has these restrictions.  In many cases these restrictions are not posted.
  • Hardback books: TDCJ will allow hardcover books. Many other prisons/jails will not. Some facilities (California and others) will remove the hard cover.
  • Number of books: Inmates can receive or retain may be limited. No limits for most TDCJ inmates.
  • Size/weight of a book, this is a rare regulation
  • New Paperback Books only: – many prisons/jails have this limit
  • Used Books permitted: In Federal Prisons, and many state prisons including California, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas as well as a very few county jails will allow used books to be ordered for prison inmates.
  • Calendars- sent to inmates can be limited by size, often 12”x12” or 4”x 8” when closed. Many prisons & jails do not allow calendars. Read your facilities website or call the mailroom for specific information before ordering a calendar.  TDCJ will allow calendars.
  • Planners are denied in Federal prisons and several other correctional facilities.
  • Blank Books and Journals not permitted by TDCJ and some other facilities (available at commissary).
  • Magazine Subscriptions are sent to prisons by the magazine publisher and almost universally acceptable. Florida is the only state we know that limits the number of subscriptions. However, because subscriptions are slow to start, we do not recommend them for county jail inmates.
  • Back Issue Magazines are often, but not always approved.
  • Puzzle books and puzzle magazines, coloring books may be denied in facilities where these are available at commissary.
  • Inmate Pre-Authorized in a few facilities (Harris County Jail, Houston, Texas included) an inmate must have permission to receive books.
  • Authorized Giver, Family/Friend: some facilities will only allow inmates to receive books sent by people on their visitation or other approved list.  Some will deny anonymous purchases.

Denial for content.

The list and wording of bad content vary from prison to prison. Examples: criminal content, gang content, content deemed a risk to prison/inmate security, maps of local areas, wilderness survival, drug manufacture, descriptions of gun or bomb making, descriptions of prison escape, lock-smithing, various types of sexual content (rape, sodomy, S&M, necrophilia, bestiality, statutory rape, incest, etc.) racially negative words or content. Tattoo publications are denied in some correctional facilities, while coloring books or puzzles in others where they must be purchased from the commissary. Publications are denied for sexual imagery, diagrams of guns, bombs etc.  Read your state or jail facilities website for specific information.   Books accepted in one place may be denied in another. 

Vendor: Source of the package limitations:   

In MANY cases, the regulations posted on the internet for a prison system or jail are NOT complete nor accurate. A call to the prison or jail mail room can often result in good information.

These are some common descriptions used that limit what kind of business can ship:

  • Verifiable bookstores (stores with physical locations that can be found on the internet). This is the regulation for TDCJ. & The Paperback Shop are Verifiable. We are also approved vendor for Texas inmates and known “Good Source” by TDCJ mailrooms.
  • Distributor, most often means any business that commonly sells books. Will include verifiable bookstores and publishers.  
  • Specific bookstores, distributors, websites, or publishers. There may be a specific list of approved vendor/bookstores.
  • No Bookstores:  but do allow books from internet companies. In these cases, we use only our website information on the package not the bookstore identity.  Our website business does not allow customers access to the publications going to facilities, so this is a legitimate interpretation of those restrictions.
  • Publisher only: This is the company that prints the book. However, due to lack of understanding this regulation can sometimes include bookstores. Ask the jail mail room! Some will accept from bookstores and/or online distributors). Some publishers will not mail to prisons. Many publishers do not mail books at all, but will refer you to specific bookstores or distributors. If this is the case for an important book family or friends might contact the warden for special permissions to have a book sent by a distributor or bookstore. Special exceptions to regulations are possible by many prison systems’ regulations.
  • Amazon Only – The Paperback Shop/IMailToPrison.Com are NOT Amazon
  • Never Amazon, or sometimes Amazon but not Amazon partners. is NOT any kind of Amazon, nor Amazon partner.
  • Internet bookstores only. Which would include IMailToPrison.Com
  • Charities only.  Also, some jails accept books as donations, with the designated inmate as first reader. All books sent there, stay there.
  • No books & no magazines from any outside source. The jail or prison may have a specific vendor catalog from which inmates can order books for themselves. Some will accept donations from individuals to the prison/jail library.

We hope this information is helpful.  

Read your facilities website or call the mailroom for specific information. 

Our pages on Prison Policies do have an outline of information on individual states and how to send books to many jails. This information is not guaranteed to be complete and up to date. There are often hidden rules. Please contact us if you find an error on that page or learn something that we do know know!