Going to jail is a stressful event, even for people who commit relatively minor offenses and face short sentences. Some of this stress comes from personal issues like a loss of contact with loved ones. Additional pressure comes from the need to navigate the ins and outs of the legal system. Fortunately, family members and friends can play an important role in reducing the strain of jail. Here are 4 ways in which you can provide essential support.

1) Visit Often

A face-to-face visit with an incarcerated friend or family member can go a long way toward easing anxiety and increasing comfort. In jurisdictions across the country, jails keep established visiting hours that allow you to make this kind of personal contact. However, each facility has its specific hours, as well as its rules for anyone hoping to see an inmate. Depending on the facility, these rules may include:

  •         Calling to make a visitation appointment
  •         Providing your friend or loved one’s inmate booking number
  •         Arriving at a set time before a visit begins
  •         Providing appropriate photo ID
  •         Following an established visitors’ dress code
  •         Following jail rules on drugs and other contraband
  •         Going through a search process designed to detect contraband

Some jails allow you to sit with your incarcerated loved one or friend. However, others may limit this kind of direct contact.

2) Maintain Contact Over the Phone or in Writing

Some people live too far away from a jail to make regular visits. In addition, for various reasons, daily life can become too hectic to make such visits a realistic goal. In these circumstances, regular phone calls or letters can help your friend or loved one feel supported while incarcerated. By providing access to the sound of your voice, a phone call can add a distinct personal touch. Letters, on the other hand, may make it easier to relay detailed information about day-to-day happenings or situations.

Jails typically provide contact information for people who want to write or call a current inmate. You may also receive this information directly from your friend/family member. After going through the booking process, inmates can usually only make collect phone calls.

3) Stay Up-to-Date on Legal Matters

Everyone who goes to jail in the U.S. has a right to legal representation. Depending on the specifics of the situation, this representation may come from a private attorney or a public defender. As a rule, all lawyers will do their best to carry out their duties and keep their clients informed about the status of their cases. However, even in the best of circumstances, your friend or loved one may feel a bit out of the loop. You can help ensure that everything is proceeding as expected by regularly checking in with the private or state-appointed attorney. By passing these updates along during face-to-face visits, phone calls or letter writing, you can ease some of the strain of a short or extended jail stay.

4) Help Your Friend/Family Member Make Bail

Most people who go to jail are eligible for temporary release if they can post bail, a refundable fee that helps ensure that a person accused of a crime will show up for all scheduled court dates. However, not many individuals have enough income to pay this fee directly. Instead, they obtain a bail bond. Issued by a licensed person or company, this bond meets the legal requirements for bail at a much lower cost.

If you can assist a family member or friend trying to make bail and go free before trial, you can help them keep the stress of getting arrested to a bare minimum. The most common way of accomplishing this is by paying for a bail bond. If you have sufficient financial resources, all you may need to do is act as a bond co-signer. If necessary, you can also use your personal property as collateral.

Before you agree to help in this manner, you must understand that this action will make you legally liable for your friend or loved one. If they fail to appear at even one appointed court date, you can lose your money or property. Be sure you’re willing to take that risk.

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