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​Frequently Asked Questions

If a loved one or friend is incarcerated at one of the 25 Department of Corrections' (DOC) state correctional institutions (SCI), his or her incarceration generates a lot of questions from family members and friends on the outside of the SCI.​

For Family and Friends is the heart of staying in touch with and supporting your loved one or friend while they are incarcerated at DOC. The topics highlighted are the most often asked and requested areas of information. If you have a question or an area of concern not addressed in these topics, please use the Contact Us icon below to connect with DOC staff directly.

In additional to this information, common questions DOC is often asked are here and may also be helpful.

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Inmate Reception/Classification/Processing

All male inmates who enter the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC) are processed through the diagnostic and classification center (DCC) at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, Cumberland County. All female inmates are processed through the DCC at SCI Muncy, Lycoming County.

This classification process takes anywhere from weeks to months, and assigns the security level of the inmate. It also evaluates the individual's health care needs, psychological needs, treatment programming needs and much more.

After evaluation, DOC determines the inmate's home facility, which will be one of 22 male facilities. Female inmates are housed at one of two female prisons: SCI Muncy or SCI Cambridge Springs, Crawford County.

This flow chart displays how an inmate is received, how treatment plans are created and how home prisons are designated. (pdf)

DOC officials do not discuss inmate transfers to home facilities before they take place.

Communicating/Visiting an Inmate

The Department of Corrections (DOC) understands and encourages communication with a family member or friend who is incarcerated. To help explain the rules, regulations and policies, a section on the DOC website called Inside Information provides details on visits, mail, phone calls, and programs available to inmates.

PLEASE NOTE: Minor children are considered to be under the age of 18. If minor children are on an inmates visiting list, these children MUST be accompanied by a parent/legal guardian.

Our For Family and Friends page provides extensive details and resources about visiting incarcerated individuals.

How does an inmate make collect calls?

The person the inmate wants to call needs to set up an account first with SECURUS (1.800.844.6591) AND the party also has to be added, by the inmate, to the inmate's telephone list.  View DC-ADM 818, Automated Inmate Telephone System Policy.

Learn more about phone accounts and rules.

How do I address a letter to a DOC inmate?

In an effort to curb the introduction of drugs into facilities, the Department of Corrections (DOC) has overhauled its system for sending mail to inmates. All inmate mail will be sent to a central processing facility, not the institution where an inmate is housed. Learn more about the process and how you can register to track your mail along the way.

Letters should be addressed this way:

Smart Communications/PA DOC
Inmate Name/Inmate Number
PO Box 33028
St Petersburg, Florida 33733

You can use the INMATE LOCATOR to find out which state prison the inmate is housed.

Sending Mail to an Inmate
The Department of Corrections (DOC) understands and encourages communication with a family member or friend who is incarcerated. Check out our complete rules, regulations and policies on sending mail to inmates.

PLEASE NOTE: The ban on color envelopes for greeting cards and any other mail began on October 29, 2015, to thwart the introduction of suboxone and other drugs into DOC institutions. Address stickers used for return addresses are banned for the same reason.

An inmate is not permitted to be sent any items of value, such as a professional signed sports memorabilia.

​How to Serve an Inmate with Legal Documents

To serve an inmate with court-related documents (such as custody papers) regardless of the document(s) being served on an inmate, it can done by a sheriff, constable or process server. At some of the Department of Corrections institutions, the local county Sheriff’s Office already has a standing gate clearance with the prison and are able to come to the prison to serve an inmate. A constable or process server has to contact the facility's superintendent's office first so gate clearance can be prepared to allow them access to the visiting room.

Sending an Inmate Money

Sending money to an inmate is done through JPay. This page details how to establish an account and the rules that must be followed. Additionally, an inmate's account cannot be funded anonymously. JPAY provides the Department of Corrections with a sender name for each transaction.

Victim’s Compensation Fund Payments

My child is an inmate at a Department of Corrections’ state prison. I am being asked to send $60 so the "Victims Compensation Fund" can be paid before my child can be released. What is this $60 for?

There are two fees currently totaling $60 on dockets from the counties which, by law, must be paid before any other fine, court cost, fee or restitution is paid on that docket. These mandatory fees are also on every speeding ticket or summary appeal. They are combined with other required fees. For example, if someone is issued a speeding ticket, that fine is $50, but the total of the ticket is approximately $200 because of the fines, fees and costs added to it.

Part of those fees are the Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund (CVCF); the other portion is for the Victim Witness Service Act. These help fund victim/witness programs, shelters and reimburse out-of-pocket expenses for crime victims who may not be receiving restitution yet or at all in their case.

The way the collections law for these two fines is written, these fines are paid before anything else in the case. The PA Board of Probation and Parole requires these fines to be paid before an inmate is released from an SCI on parole.

If any dockets are set up for collection regarding the other costs, fees, fines and/or restitution, 20% of the monies sent to your loved one will be deducted automatically and put towards that debt.

As an example: If an inmate is serving a sentence for a crime of theft and owes the county $500 in costs/fees and $100 in restitution to the victim of the crime. The total amount is $600 minus the $60 mandatory victim’s compensation fee. DOC will deduct 20% of all incoming monies to the inmate’s account until that payment is satisfied. If the inmate has a DOC job working in the kitchen and the inmate receives a $50 paycheck, DOC will deduct $10. If an inmate is sent $100, DOC will deduct $20.

This money collected by the DOC is sent back to the sentencing county to have the payment recorded into the docket and is then put towards the appropriate parties—including the crime victims owed restitution.

Depending on when your loved one arrived at DOC determines how much money he or she makes working inside the prison and how much money sent to him is deducted from the inmate’s for these fines and the rest of the case. One of two different options may happen:

•  20% is deducted for CVCF and for costs/fines/restitution off of the top of any incoming deposit made to an inmate’s account

•  50% is deducted for CVCF until it is paid in full, then 20% starts for costs/fines/restitution

The Unified Judicial System of PA Web Portal provides details for the fines/costs/restitution for each case.

To use the Unified Judicial System of the Pennsylvania Web Portal

Click on the DOCKET SHEETS button on the right side of the page. (The bolded Public Web Docket Sheets gives several options. Court of Common Pleas covers sentenced cases.)

Use the drop down menu to decide the type of search. (Use Participant Name and select “Criminal” for the Docket Type in the drop down menu will yield the most search results.)

A new screen will open that lists a number of cases. A docket number appears as CP-01-CR-1234-2015. There is a magnifying glass. Move the cursor onto the left of the docket number. With the cursor placed, two options appear: “Docket Sheet” or “Court Summary.” Choose DOCKET SHEET.

Another new screen will come up with the actual docket. It can be several pages long. Near the end of the document, there is a section entitled “Court Financial Information.” This displays if the fees are paid.

Both the inmate and the DOC will have payment information on record.

Is there a limit to the amount of funds that can be added to an inmate's account at one time, or for a given time period?

​If a credit card is used, only $300 per card can be added every 72 hours. Multiple cards can possibly be used, but the limit is $300 per card every 72 hours. If a money order is used, the limit is $999.99 per money order. Senders can send multiple money orders at a time. For cash/walk-in transactions using MoneyGram, a maximum limit is set at $5,000 per transaction. The Department of Corrections does not limit how much can be added to an inmate’s account.

​If an inmate is left money in a will, how can that inheritance be distributed to the inmate?

It would have to be distributed by the executor or executrix of the estate. The funds would need to be on a bank check made payable to the inmate (no personal checks are accepted). The inmate ID must be referenced and the check can be mailed to the institution where the inmate is housed.

​How is an inmate notified when funds have been put into his/her account?

An inmate receives a statement each month listing all transactions form their account, and anytime funds are posted from JPAY, an individual receipt is given to the inmate telling him/her that they have received funds.

​Notification of a Family Death

​If you need to inform an inmate about a death in the family or about a family emergency, you should contact the inmate's counselor, unit manager or the prison chaplain.

How can I get an inmate to stop sending me letters?

​You must write to or call the Department of Corrections’ superintendent's office at the prison where the inmate is housed. Staff will help to stop such letters.

How is an inmate's next-of-kin or emergency contact identified?

At reception to the Department of Corrections (DOC), inmates are asked who they would like to list as their next-of-kin, or who the DOC should notify in the event of an emergency involving the inmate. The inmate can name anyone they want, including an individual who is NOT related to them.

There have situations in the past, where an inmate's parent or spouse would call the prison upset because they were not contacted about an emergency involving their incarcerated loved one. DOC policy is very strict about who may receive information about an inmate. DOC employees are ONLY able to provide information to the one person the inmate has designated as next-of-kin.

Monitoring Inmates in a State Correctional Institution

Private citizens can monitor the location of individuals in Pennsylvania prisons through Pennsylvania Statewide Automated Victim Information and Notification (PA SAVIN) and VINELINK. This is a free, confidential and automated service to help victims, law enforcement and community members keep up-to-date on the status of an individual housed in a county jail, state prison or under state parole supervision within the Commonwealth.

Individual crime victims are encouraged to register with the Office of Victim Advocate (OVA) to learn about their rights as afforded to them under Pennsylvania law. Contact OVA toll-free at 800.563.6399.