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Common FAQs to Help You Navigate the System

What happens immediately after a defendant gets arrested?
What type of conditions of bail does a judge usually impose?
If a defendant pleads not guilty at the outset, can the defendant change his/her plea?
What types of things are usually included in the plea agreement?
What happens prior to sentencing?
Is there anything the defendant should make sure to mention during the pre sentencing interview with the probation officer?
What happens at sentencing?
What happens after sentencing?
What should a defendant bring when they self-surrender?
When can an inmate first make a phone call?
Can an inmate email family and friends?
How can family and friends visit?
Can I send money?
What types of things can an inmate purchase with the money in their account?


Q. What happens immediately after a defendant gets arrested?

While each situation may be different depending on the particular circumstances, typically the defendant must appear with their attorney in front of a judge for an arraignment.  This is the court hearing where the defendant is read the charges against him/her and the defendant enters a plea of guilty or not guilty.

After the arraignment, the defendant attends a bail hearing.  Depending on the facts of the case, the alleged crime, and each defendant’s particular circumstances (such as violent or non-violent crime, family ties to the community, being a first time offender or not, and other factors), the judge decides if bail is warranted, and if so, how much the bail should be. 

In some cases, the judge will release the defendant on his/her own recognizance without any bail, in which case the defendant can await trial at home . 

In other cases, the judge sets bail, and if the bail is paid, the defendant can await trial at home, if not paid, the defendant has to await trial in jail.

Finally, the judge can also refuse to set bail, in which case the defendant must await trial in jail.


Q. What type of conditions of bail does a judge usually impose?

Conditions of bail vary case but case, but typically the defendant is assigned to pre-trial services with an officer assigned to monitor them. 

Typical conditions include:

     Reporting monthly, usually, via a web form

     Period visits to the defendant’s place of residence

     Giving up of passport

     No possession of guns/firearms

     Travel restrictions - no travel is allowed beyond a pre-defined territory without approval form pre-trial officer

     No illegal activity

     No alcohol

     Drug testing, if applicable


Q. If a defendant pleads not guilty at the outset, can the defendant change his/her plea?

Yes.  Most federal cases do not go to trial. 


Q. What types of things are usually included in the plea agreement?

Plea agreements usually contain a description of the charges the defendant is pleading to, as well as the facts you are pleading guilty to. The prosecution may request waiver of appeal. 

Typically there is an agreed-upon number of points assigned to the crime/defendant. Federal Sentencing Guidelines work on a point system for the crime. 

The higher the points the higher the recommended sentence. These points are based on factors like financial value of the crime, violence or non-violence, use of weapons during the crime, the defendant’s involvement in the crime, whether trust was violated, whether the defendant accepted responsibility, and many other factors. 

Usually, in the plea agreement, the defendant and prosecutor agree on the points to be assigned, which will then help the judge in determining the sentence. 

Q. What happens prior to sentencing?

The court orders a Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR) which is prepared by the US Probation Office.  The defendant will meet with a US probation officer, who will interview the defendant about the defendant's school, work history and criminal history, family history, medical history, drug and alcohol use, finances, and various other items. 

After the interview, especially for financial crimes with potential restitution, the probation officer will ask for a financial disclosure and documents to be filled out. 

The probation office will then produce the PSR which includes a summary of the history and crime and a recommended point range for the sentence. During this time, the defendant can ask family, friends, colleagues, religious leaders to write letters in support of the defendant. 

The prosecution will also produce their sentencing memo to the judge with their recommended sentence.Then the defendant’s attorney will submit their own sentencing memo with their recommended sentence. 

The judge will then take into account all three submissions in order to reach a decision on sentence.

Q. Is there anything the defendant should make sure to mention during the presentencing interview with the probation officer?

Yes.  If the defendant has problems with alcohol or drugs, mentioning this to the probation officer and having it included as part of the PRS can become very important later on when in prison. 

Federal prison has residential drug programs which if completed, can give the defendant up to one year off their sentence. 

Typically, the requirement is that the PSR mentioned the problem or it could be very difficult if not impossible to get into the program. 

You should consult about this with your attorney prior to the interview with the probation officer to see if this should be brought up.

Q. What happens at sentencing?

The prosecution makes their case as to their recommended sentence and the defendant has a chance to address the court and make a statement if they want. 

The judge will pronounce the sentence right at the sentencing hearing. 

If the defendant was allowed to await trial at home, then the defendant can go home and await the assignment of when and to what prison to report. Before leaving court, the defendant needs to pay a $100 court fee.

Q. What happens after sentencing?

After sentencing, a defendant has to await the assignment of what prison they will report to and when.  It could take up to 2 months.  If a defendant is allowed to self-surrender, then they await this time at home.  After about 2 months, a letter will arrive in the mail indicating what prison to report to, what date, and what time. 

Q. What should a defendant bring when they self-surrender?

Very few items are allowed to be brought in. This list is not exhaustive and may vary prison to prison:

     A list of medications or the medications themselves

     One pair of eye glasses (if applicable)

     ID/Driver’s License


     List of contacts you plan to call and/or email and send mail to.  Include addresses, emails, and phone numbers

Whatever clothes are worn upon arrival, will either be thrown away or mailed back home.  They will mail them back if you ask.

Q. When can an inmate first make a phone call?

This may vary by prison, but usually within 1-3 days or arrival.  The inmate has to be set up in the system with an account and they have to have money in their account in order to make the phone call.  This is why it is important to bring money in upon arrival.

They also have to have access to the computer system (CORRLINKS) so that they can input each contact’s name and phone number. 

Q. Can an inmate email family and friends?

Yes.  CORRLINKS is the internal system in federal prison which allows inmates to email with contacts on the outside. Each contact needs to be entered and approved. Once approved, the inmate can send emails.

The recipient will need to create a CORRLINKS account on the outside and log into the system in order to read emails. The inmate will send a request with a link that the contact has to accept. 

There is also a phone App for $6.00 per year which will allow contacts to receive and read the emails within the App.

Q. How can family and friends visit?

Visitation is usually on Friday evenings and Sat and Sunday until 3:00 PM.  Each prison may have its unique rules, but in general this is the case. All visitors must first be approved before they can visit. There is a form you can get online to fill out and send in. It’s a one page form and it gives approval for a background check. 

The visitor must mail the form to the prison. It may take 1-4 weeks to get approved. Each time a visitor is approved, the inmate receives an updated printout of the visitor list. Once you are approved you can come without advance notice to the prison as long as you come on approved days. 

There are several rules to be sure to abide by, which may slightly vary by prison, so verify each before coming:

  • Attire must not be torn; no sweat pants or yoga pants; no hoodies, no open toed shoes; no cut offs

  • No cell phones

  • No watches

  • No wallets

  • No food or other items allowed

  • Bring only a photo ID, car keys, and money for the vending machines

  • There may be a limit to how many people can visit at one time so check before coming

Q. Can I send money?

Yes.  Family and friends can easily send money. 

The easiest way is electronically through Western Union  

There is a section there to pay an inmate.  You just input your inmate’s name and register number, select the amount to send, and enter your bank or credit card information. Money will arrive in the inmate’s account the same day or next day.

Q. What types of things can an inmate purchase with the money in their account?

  • Phone calls

  • Email minutes - in order to send or read emails, inmates have to pay by minute

  • Commissary items - this includes food, over the counter medications, soap, shampoo, and other self-care items

  • Stamps

  • Photo tickets - to be used for photos taken in prison during visitation or rec time

  • Hobby Items - yarn, art/craft supplies, etc.






This FAQ page was created to offer guidance and should not be construed as legal advice. We cannot cover the specifics of any individual's situation sufficiently to know what the most prudent course of action is.

Hinda Institute advises all participants to consult with an attorney for legal advice.