How to Find Jail Inmates

Two Methods:Locating a County, State or Federal PrisonerContacting the Inmate

If you’re having trouble finding someone, you should consider an inmate search. In the United States, approximately 1% of the population is currently in jail or in prison.[1] Online databases make searching for inmates easier, even if you have limited information about the prisoner. Once you've located the inmate, there are usually several ways to make contact.

Method 1
Locating a County, State or Federal Prisoner

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    Contact local law enforcement. Determine where the inmate was originally arrested and check with the police or sheriff's department for information. You can also call or email the municipal court for contact information.
    • Law enforcement may refer you to a county or city website for details.
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    Search county or city websites. Start your search in the county where you think the person was arrested or incarcerated. Corrections departments for your county or city will list an online database or give a link for a county inmate locator. County jail websites also list e-mail addresses so you can e-mail the department to ask questions or inquire directly.
    • Be aware that some county websites also let you browse the jail registry.[2]
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    Search Federal Bureau of Prisons's database. Go to the "Inmate Locator" heading on their website. Fortunately, this database works with limited information. For example, you'll be able to search the directory even if you only have the inmate's name. You can search this database if you know any of following:[3]
    • Prisoner's name (first and last)
    • Prisoner's race
    • Prisoner's age
    • Prisoner's sex
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    Use the prisoner's I.D. number. If you know it, you can search the Federal Bureau of Prisons's database using the eight-digit register number assigned to the prisoner. While this is an extensive database, it doesn't track inmates who were incarcerated before 1982.[4]
    • Be aware that the website does not list the inmate numbers of all prisoners.
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    Search state websites. Go to the State Department's Office of Corrections website. Many states have searchable databases similar to the federal database. Or, the state will list an email address you can use to contact someone about a prisoner's location.
    • Be aware that some states won’t let you search for inmates under the age of 18.[5] Some states may not keep inmate records prior to the 1970s or 1980s.

Method 2
Contacting the Inmate

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    Gather inmate information. Once you've found the prisoner in a database, use the contact information to find the prisoner. The database may tell you:
    • The prisoner's I.D. number
    • The name and location of the prison facility
    • A phone number or email address for contacting the facility
    • The prisoner's release date
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    Find someone who has been released. Conduct a basic background search using the person's name and birth date. You can use one of these websites:
    • E-Verify: Sign up for a trial period of 5 days for $1. Be aware that searching for one inmate or multiple inmates costs $19.95 after the trial period.[6]
    • Background Report 360: This subscription service costs $29.95 per year, but it is one of the most comprehensive inmate searches.[7]
    • Verispy: A one month subscription costs $29. 95, but that you can often find someone on this website by just searching for the person’s name. [8]
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    Contact the prisoner. There are a variety of ways to communicate with the inmate. You can call the prison facility and speak to the inmate, although the inmate will usually have to pay for the call and it is monitored. Or, you can email the prisoner, using a secured application that is also monitored.[9]
    • While you can send mail to the inmate, you can't send packages.[10] Keep in mind that most mail sent to inmates marked "general" is read and inspected. Only mail that is marked as "special" will be inspected with the inmate present.
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    Visit the inmate. If the person is still being held in a facility, read the rules about visiting. For example, most facilities have guidelines about what clothing and behavior is appropriate for your visit. You can only visit a prisoner if you're on the pre-approved visiting list that the inmate created. You don't need to make an appointment to visit, but you should check the facility's visiting hours.[11]
    • In addition to family, approved visitors might include friends, attorneys, employers, clergy, or parole advisors.
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    Search for an ancestor. If you're trying to contact or learn more about a family member who was incarcerated, consider visiting the National Archives in Washington, D.C. to look at records that haven't been digitized. One of their genealogists or archivists should be able to assist you in your search without charging a fee (if you're an American citizen).[12] If you're looking for an ancestor who was in a military prison, you can see their military record at the National Archives.
    • You can also search prison records on genealogy sites like and Ancestor Hunt's County Jail Inmate Search.[13][14] Be aware that you can also use this website to search prison records in other countries.


  • Several websites provide links to each state's Department of Corrections. [15][16]
  • Keep in mind that some inmates may not show up in locators because of exemptions provided under Government Code section 6254(f).
  • Note that it takes at least a couple days for these websites to update their information.
  • To find an inmate in another country, contact the appropriate government resource by email, telephone, or mail. For example, you can find an inmate in the United Kingdom by writing, emailing, or faxing the Prison Locator Service.[17]

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Categories: Criminal and Penal Law Procedure | Maintaining Relationships