The “First Days” tab as the name implies, is the place to go for information during those first days of learning the criminal justice system. It is the time from the arrest of your loved one through the actual trial and sentencing. For most people this is an emotional, chaotic, fearful time. Being thrust into the criminal justice system brings with it new terms, new people (bondsman, police, detectives, attorneys, etc.), new places, new expenses and a host of other issues.
Add to this the social embarrassment and an unjust stigma that surrounds families in this position and you can quickly find yourself very alone.
Many of the LEAF members have been there and we want to walk with you! In this tab we hope you will find answers to the most confusing issues encountered in the first days. We hope over time this section will continue to grow. We are a resource ministry, so if you need help understanding the system, (we don’t offer legal or financial advice) then contact us and we will do our best to put you in touch with someone who can answer your questions.
Quick Overview of the Justice System
The city or jurisdiction making the initial arrest will most likely know where the person is being held initially. This location will change as the person’s case moves through the system. For example, a person arrested in the suburbs may spend one or more days in that cities jail pending arraignment in that cities municipal court. Depending on the charge, the case may be moved to a county or regional facility.
Booking Process – all important information is gathered allowing the corrections staff to best meet the inmate’s needs while confined. As part of this process, all personal property is removed and held in a secure area. The inmate will be fingerprinted, interviewed and photographed. Depending upon the facility and expected duration of the stay, new clothing and toiletries will be gathered. This is just the beginning of a multi-step, multi-month criminal case flow.
The Commissary – Most facilities, other than local suburban jails, have a commissary where inmates can purchase additional items such as candy bars, fresh fruit, paper, pens, extra soap, etc. It is a good idea to never allow the inmates account to reach zero. These small extras can make a world of difference in the inmate’s mental outlook. The exact amount to add and the how to add to the account varies from location to location. Most places allow family and friends to add to the account during a visit. For more information on adding to the commissary account click here. Sample commissary forms can be found here.
Communications – Inmates are not allowed to receive calls, but they can make outgoing collect calls. These are calls are generally very expensive and if long term incarceration is expected it is best to open a pre-paid account or third party calling card account. These are not inexpensive, but they are cheaper than a collect call. Information on calling plans click here.
One other important telephone fact to remember — these lines are recorded and you can bet whatever you say will be given to judge or prosecutor before the trial. So it is best to not discuss the case, the trial or the situation on the phone. Talk about sports, the weather, what’s happening in the family or just about anything else.
Mail – At most places inmates can receive mail, but check the rules and requirements of the particular facility. Most will not accept any package with a metal object ( e.g. spiral notebook) or pens and some will not allow hard bound books or envelopes with standard postage stamps on the outside. In all cases, you must include the inmate’s name and inmate number.
Visitation – it is highly suggested you visit the inmate in prison. Regardless of your anger or feelings, a face to face visit can make the difference in rebuilding a relationship. Almost all facilities require you to pre-register prior to setting up a visitation appointment. Registration must be done in advance of the visit and not on the same day. After your registration you must make an appointment (similar to making a doctor’s appointment). Visitation times may not be available when you want or can visit! In addition, you must have a government issued ID with picture such as a driver’s license, passport, active military ID or valid Ohio State ID. All facilities have dress codes. If you don’t meet the dress code you won’t get access. Your personal items (purse, cell phone, etc.) may need to be locked up. Most places have change making machines but bring quarters and singles anyway in case they are empty or broken. Most places have small lockers to rent. More information on visitation is here.
Other useful information in this section:
You don’t need to walk this path alone!
The criminal justice system is daunting and at times confusing as some specifics like visitation can vary from jail to jail and prison to prison. It is often frustrating as some individual interpret the rules slightly different than others or be more precise in the enforcement. It’s a journey of patience and stamina.
We would love to hear from you, especially with suggestions on improving this section and your experience with the justice system.