Updated October 1996
This Customer Support Ruling
addressed to inmates or prisoners, including forwarding and
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.
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.
(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.
that is undeliverable as addressed is returned to the sender,
without additional postage.
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
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.
Anita J. Bizzotto
United States Postal Service
Washington DC 20260-3436