How to Prepare for Jail
It can be nerve wracking to know you are heading to jail, but preparation can help ease the anxiety. First, it is helpful to understand the difference between jail and prison. Prisons are operated by the state or federal government and hold people convicted with sentences of over one year. Jails are operated by local governments or sheriffs and hold people who are awaiting their sentences or who have been convicted with sentences of less than one year. Even if you are only going to be staying in jail for a few days, it is important to understand how your stay will be and what next steps you should take.
First, it is imperative to get your finances in order before you arrive at jail. If you are going to be in jail for an extended period, try to put any of your recurring expenses, such as a cell phone plan, on hold. If you are unable to put your payments on hold, try to set up a payment plan with the company and a trusted family member or friend. Missed or late payments can negatively impact your credit score or even lead to bankruptcy, which is the last thing you want to deal with upon being released from jail.
Next, no matter how long you will be in jail, you should speak with your employer about your situation. While you do not need to share sensitive details, you will need to inform your employer of how long you will be gone and see if they can hold your job for you. Regardless of how much you choose to share, it is best to be honest with your employer.
Finally, if you have children who depend on you as their primary caretaker, you must ensure the court determines who will take care of your children. Generally, an incarcerated parent would not be able to get physical custody of their child but may be able to keep shared parental responsibility. Courts will first look to place the children in the custody of their other parent before looking at other relatives. If the parents made a legal arrangement for their children, such as a guardianship with a relative, courts will generally not intervene. However, courts try to make child custody decisions in the children’s’ best interests and, if the court determines a relative as a guardian is not in the children’s best interest, may place the children in foster care. Child custody can be an extremely complex issue and it is best to speak with an attorney to ensure the best possible outcome for you and your children.
When heading to jail, you should try to bring several necessary items to make the transition in and out of jail easier. You should plan to bring a valid state or federal issued photo identification, such as a driver’s license, collateral contact information, a card with important phone numbers, such as friends’, family members’, and attorneys’ phone numbers, and cash for bail/bond or for your commissary account. You should also plan to bring necessary personal assistive aids, such as glasses, hearing aids, or orthopedic devices, as well as your current prescription medications in original sealed and labeled packaging. Do not bring electronics, excessive personal items, weapons, perishable items, or items considered by the jail as contraband. Check the website of the jail you are going to in order to see what items are considered contraband.
The booking process can be quite shocking and invasive, so it is important to be mentally prepared. During the booking process, police will check your identity, take your mug shot, remove and confiscate your clothing and personal belongings, replace your clothes with jail-appropriate attire, conduct a full-body search, conduct a general health check, take your fingerprints, and take samples of your DNA. This process can span from one hour to over several hours. After the booking process is completed, you will be placed in a holding cell. You will likely feel an intense mix of emotions, so try to remain calm and focus on the next steps you need to take.
You may make phone calls when in jail, but each phone call costs a set amount of money, which varies from jail to jail. You will need to ensure there is enough money in your account to make a call, either by purchasing pre-paid calling cards through the jail commissary or having a family member set up a pre-paid telephone account. Inmate phone calls are typically subject to monitoring and recording, unless the calls are privileged. An example of a privileged call would be a call to your attorney. Furthermore, calls to your attorney from jail are free. Each jail has different policies, so it is important to check the jail’s website for their specific rules regarding phone calls.
Inmates may receive mail, but all non-privileged mail will be opened and inspected for unacceptable content and contraband. Incoming and outcoming mail is usually subject to being read by jail staff. Inmates are typically not allowed to receive packages and any packages sent will be returned to the sender. Jails generally require mail to be sent through the United States Postal Service.
Jails have strict visiting policies, but each jail’s exact policies differ. Generally, a visitor must schedule their visit 24 hours in advance and arrive at least 20 minutes in advance to check in. Visitors must be on an inmate’s visiting list and be pre-approved prior to entrance. Visitors will need to go through a security checkpoint and any violation of visiting rules could result in immediate termination of the visit and impact future visiting privileges. Visits are considered a privilege and jail staff can cancel or shorten a visit without notice. Each jail has different visiting times, so check the jail’s website for additional details.
When you are booked into jail, a commissary account is created, which holds any money you brought in and allows you to purchase additional items via a canteen. Canteen purchases are items that are not provided to inmates, such as candy or stamps. Indigent inmates may be provided some basic commissary supplies free of charge, but the types of items vary from jail to jail. Your friends and family may deposit money in your account by visiting the jail or through an online system. Some jails allow money to be mailed to inmates, but the form the money must be sent in varies from jail to jail. Check the website of the jail you are going to for specific details.
Once you are in jail, you may release your personal property to an authorized friend or family member. You must complete a property release form in advance specifying the intended recipient. Only the specified intended recipient may pick up the property and will have to present a valid state or federally issued photo identification at the time of receiving the property.
While bail and bond are often used interchangeably when discussing release from jail, the two are not the same thing. Bail is the money an inmate must pay to get out of jail, while bond is posted on an inmate’s behalf, usually by a bail bond company, to secure his or her release. Bail is like a financial promise to show up to court when you are required to. You pay the full bail amount and, if you keep the promise to return to court, the bail money is returned to you. If you flee or violate the conditions of release, the court keeps the money.
Bond is similar, except that a bail bond company pays the amount required to secure your release. In exchange, the company requires a certain percentage of the bail amount up front and will not return that amount to you. If you choose to not pay the bail amount or hire a bail bond company to do so, you will be held in jail until the date the court set for your trial.
Before you go to jail, you should consider speaking with an attorney about your case. A criminal defense attorney can help you navigate the criminal justice system and help you obtain the best possible outcome for your case. If you have questions about your situation, contact Brandt Criminal Defense at 763.421.6366 for a free consultation with one of our attorneys.