Customer Support Ruling

Mail Addressed to Prisoners

UPDATED October 1996

PS-206 (507.1.4.1)

This CSR discusses mail addressed to inmates or prisoners, including forwarding and undeliverable items.

Mail addressed to inmates or prisoners of institutions is handled as provided in Postal Operations Manual (POM), section 615.1.  The POM provides that such mailpieces are to be delivered to the institutions authorities who, in turn, deliver the mail to the addressee under the institution’s rules and regulations.  If the addressee is no longer at that address, the mail must be redirected to his or her current address by the institution.  If the forwarding address is unknown, the mail is returned to the post office.


In general, the authorized personnel of prisons, jails, or other correctional institutions, in accordance with the institution’s lawful rules and regulations, may open, examine, and censor mail addressed to an inmate of the institution, if the inmate-addressee consents to receive his mail through the institutional authorities.  If the inmate does not consent, the personnel may either deliver the inmate's mail to the inmate unopened, or return it to the post office unopened marked, "Refused."

Most departments of corrections have regulations that authorize officials at state institutions to examine mail addressed to prisoners.  Under those regulations, mail containing cash or other contraband that violates the institution’s policies regarding inmate mail is not delivered to the prisoners, but returned to the sender.

Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 507.1.4.1, provides, in part, that mail that is undeliverable as addressed may be forwarded, returned to the sender, or treated as dead mail, depending on the treatment authorized for that particular class of mail.

First-Class Mail that is undeliverable as addressed is returned to the sender, without additional postage.

The circumstances under which mail is considered to be undeliverable include the refusal of the mail by the addressee.  Accordingly, if the prison officials properly refuse unopened First-Class Mail addressed to prisoners, that mail may be returned to the senders without additional postage.

The refusal of mail under DMM 508.1.1.2 and 508.1.1.3 is not precluded by the fact that it is the prison officials, rather than the addressee or intended recipient (i.e., the prisoner), who attempt to refuse the mail.  Postal regulations contemplate that the addressee or his authorized agent will control the delivery of the addressee's mail, including decisions to refuse the mail.  Mail addressed to inmates of an institution is delivered to the institution's officials who are considered to be the inmates' agents for purposes of mail delivery.  Therefore, prison officials may refuse an inmate's mail, if the refusal is one in accordance with Postal Service procedures for refusing mail.

A mail piece which has been properly delivered to the addressee may not be returned as refused once it has been opened.  If the piece is to be returned to the sender, it must be resealed and the legal rate of postage must be affixed to it.

Anita J. Bizzotto


Mailing Standards
United States Postal Service
Washington DC  20260-3436