Can You Claim Someone In Prison on Your Taxes?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: August 20, 2019

When I was in prison, I was lucky enough to have family and friends who sent me money regularly. If you are sending money to an inmate, please know that you are loved and appreciated. Having someone put money on your books is a big deal.

Inmates are responsible for buying their own hygiene items, and if they want to communicate with people on the outside, they have to buy phone time, paper, pens, envelopes, and stamps.

If an inmate needs extra clothes or shoes, they must buy those things, too. And to help pass the time, they can also buy electronics like a TV or a CD Player. The prison commissary also sells food, beverages, and OTC medications, so when you have people on the outside sending you money, it is an absolute blessing.

If your loved one is in prison for just a few months, you might also be paying their car payment and car insurance. Or, maybe you paid for their attorneys fees?

If you are sending a good chunk of money to an inmate on a regular basis and are paying their bills, you must be able to claim them on your taxes, right? After all, you are supporting them and they are depending on you for their income. Today, I’m going to answer the question: Can you claim someone in prison on your taxes?

In this blog post, I will cover:

  • Is an inmate considered a dependent?
  • Can you claim a juvenile inmate as a dependent?

Is an inmate considered a dependent?

Unfortunately, an inmate is not considered a dependentㄧeven if they are your son or daughterㄧso you can’t claim them on your taxes. Any money you send to your inmate is considered a gift, so that’s not even tax deductible.

Someone who is incarcerated is considered a ward of the state, and they are being supported by the institution. The facility provides room, board, and medical care, so any money you send won’t meet the 50% support requirement to be able to claim them as a dependent, even if you are paying their bills on the outside.

Can you claim a juvenile inmate as a dependent?

If you have a child under 18 who is an inmate at a juvenile detention center or prison, you are not allowed to claim them as a dependent if they are serving a long-term sentence. However, if their term of incarceration is less than six months, and they lived with you for more than half the year, your child may be considered a dependent under qualified children rules.

Qualified children rules:

  • You must be able to demonstrate that your child lived with you for more than half the year
  • You must also be able to prove that your child didn’t provide more than half of their own support

Neither tax law nor IRS instructions mention an incarcerated dependent, so these qualified child rules come from a 2002 tax court case and the updated definition of “dependent” in recent tax laws.

It can be incredibly expensive to take care of a loved one who is behind bars, but the federal government considers your contributions a gift, not financial support. However, even if they did consider it support, it still wouldn’t be enough to compete with the cost of room, board, and medical care. So, you wouldn’t be able to prove you were giving more than 50 percent of their financial support.

Please don’t let this information keep you from sending money to your incarcerated loved one. The money is always needed, and greatly appreciated.

Do you regularly send money to an inmate? Let us know in the comments below.


Can you claim a prison inmate as a dependent?

Tax Deduction for Sending Money to a Child in Prison

  • My son has been incarcerated for almost 2 years. The cost to me for his enceration in that time has been approximately 17,000 dollars. The jail does house them in deplorable conditions yet does house them. They do feed the 3 meals a day of the worst food ever served yet does feed them. However, this is where the 17,000 dollars comes in. I give him money to buy grossly unpcharged food he will eat. Example…a package of pop tarts which you can buy 3 packs for 2.00, your paying 2.50 for one pack. Phone money to keep in contact with family, in one month can be anywhere from 150 to 250 per month, one pair of long underwear you can buy in a store for 3.50 is costing 8.50, I completely understand if he wasnt so stupid but at the end of the day these people are human and need to survive but the system is pretty much raping the families. And it’s not just the companies the facilities use, it’s the facilities as well, they all get kickbacks on money the inmates spend, the companies they use depend on the kickbacks they get, the higher the kickback determines what company and the higher the kickback determines the prices the inmates pay for whatever it is they need. Now they offer tablets, just another added expense and not to sound like the inmates dont deserve these things entirely but just goes to prove that it’s all about the money because come on, people living a good law abiding life on the outside, well alot of them can not afford tablets why in the world are these made available to inmates.

    • So yes, I do feel these things that are necessities, not all but the necessities should be able to be claimed as a deduction on ones taxes, shame on the government for not allowing yet collecting on what families, good families have to do for their family members for then to not feel so dehumanized. Its disgraceful.

  • I just came home from serving 11 years in prison.When i was released in august I signed up for the stimulus check and I was told I couldn’t get it cause someone claimed me while I was in prison!

  • i cant claim my fiance on my taxes even though she works in the minimum prision and pays 25% of her room and board? shes been incaracarted for 2 years hoping for home confinment by July of this year but shes still considered in Maine DOC custody so still cant be claimable?

  • Yes I send money to my incarcerated son. They tax all of it. You have what they call pay for state and then if any restitution was court ordered they take a portion out for that. When they purchase anything you have sales tax then the pay for state on top of that. So a like a 2.50 bottle of shampoo cost an inmate 13% more when it’s all said and done. What kind of crap is that?

  • I was supported financially by my step dad, once a month, at the 1st of the month. He started sending me $80/month for about 5 years, then my mom lost her job while trying to apply for disablility, so he cut it back to $40/month for the last 2-3 years before I was able to go to the transitional center. Well, I was grateful for what he could do for me, it ensured I was able to buy my hygiene and coffee and whatever was left over I got food for the weekends, as they do not provide the womens facilities in Georgia with lunch Friday-Sundays. So I learned to make up buy hustling. Well, I’ve been out for over 3 years now and I am currently in school, so of course you file your taxes as a student, and when I did, his name shows up right under mine on my personal, paper tax return. What does this mean? Had he used my SSN to file me as a dependent while I was in prison? How can I find out if he generated a fraudulent income while using my SSN? Or prove he was getting a tax cut somewhere? What do I need to do to bring it to the IRS’s attention, as I am having a hard time getting anyone in that department over the phone at all. I feel like he has done the same thing with obtaining custody of both my niece and now my little girl. Both me and my sister were manipulated and in a documented state of mental distress at this time and I honestly feel like they have gotten custody of children (me and my 2 brothers, now my niece and my daughter, since we’re grown) and used us solely as an income. They treated every single one of us like trash. Abuse, neglect, and we are all mentally disabled and have been incarcerated in and out for over half of our lives). I went through a lot of therapy during my 10 year sentence, and I dread the thought of them putting my little girl through that type of mental and physical abuse and no one in the judicial or juvenile system over the county will do anything to stop them, protect the children under that roof or with our last name, and there has to be something that can be done where they can no longer victimize children and ruin lives any longer. I sure hope you have some answers because I have been so suspicious of them and they are so downright mean, even towards each other constantly. Its no place to have children and I want them to be punished. They have messed my head up so bad its still a daily struggle to maintain and I have 3 years of intense therapy under my cap. Its just so fresh now with my daughter and she means so much to me. They have left me feeling so crippled, I dont have a clue how to get her out of there!

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