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The purpose of an inmate trust fund is to allow inmates to easily keep track of their funds while also permitting others to send them money for use at the commissary. It is similar to a bank, as authorized parties are typically allowed to withdraw funds from it, while anyone who knows the inmate's identification information can typically make a deposit. While inmates can either help support their family or utilize the funds while incarcerated, they can also save the money for use when they are released. Like most inmate services, there are many regulations associated with the trust fund, and they tend to vary from one facility to another.
Since inmates are not typically allowed to keep cash on them while incarcerated, it is usually taken from them when they are booked into a cell, and will be considered the first deposit into their inmate trust fund. Relatives and friends can usually add to the account by sending a personal check, money order, or cashier's check, though some jails allow deposits to be made with debit or credit card over the phone. Other forms of money that are usually accepted into the account include Social Security checks, payroll checks, unemployment benefits, and tax refunds. All payments need to have the inmate's correct identification information, as well as the sender's information should it need to be returned due to deposit issues. It should be noted that the forms of payment accepted by each jail vary, so it is helpful to call ahead to find out before sending a payment.
In most cases, funds cannot be transferred from one inmate to another, but authorized people who are not incarcerated are usually allowed access to the money in the inmate trust fund. This is typically limited to spouses, attorneys, and immediate family members of the inmate. Those with court orders, proof of guardianship, and common law spouses may access the account, though everyone must show proof of identification. Additionally, it is usually necessary to visit the jail in person, as well as obtain the inmate's signature, to get money from the inmate trust fund.
Most jails feature a commissary, which is a store that has necessities that are not provided for free to the inmates. In order to purchase items that may include deodorant, razors, and snacks, inmates need to have money available to them through their trust fund. Each cell block typically has a set time during which they can purchase items from the commissary. Money that is left in their inmate trust fund once they are released is usually given to them via check, while money that is not claimed within a certain timeframe after release typically goes to the inmate welfare fund, which benefits all inmates.