How to Find Someone in Jail

Three Methods:Gathering Background InformationLocating a Federal InmateLocating a State Inmate

Criminal records are public records, as are the names of people currently housed in state or federal correctional facilities. As long as you have correct identifying information, finding someone in jail typically is easier than finding any other person. Even if a prisoner is transferred to a different facility, you can follow the paper trail and find out where that person is currently located. This information is available to the general public – you don't have to demonstrate a particular relationship to the inmate to know where he or she is, although that typically isn't the case if you actually want to visit or send mail.

Method 1
Gathering Background Information

  1. Image titled Find Someone in Jail Step 1
    Confirm the person's legal name. Even though you may know someone by a nickname, a prison record will have the person's full legal name.
    • Most criminal records include listings of aliases or other known names, but typically are only searchable by a person's legal first and last name.
    • Keep in mind you may think you have the person's full legal name when in fact you don't. If you hit a dead-end in your search and cannot find the person, this more than likely is because you don't have his or her legal name. For example, someone may go by his middle name instead of his first name.
  2. Image titled Find Someone in Jail Step 2
    Collect additional information. Other identifying information, such as a birthdate, can help narrow your search results and enable you to find someone in jail more easily.
    • Searching social media can help you learn some of these details. You also may want to ask friends or family of the person, if they are known and available to you.
    • This is particularly important if the person you're trying to find has a relatively common name. For example, if you're looking for John Smith, your search of either a state or federal inmate database may turn up many inmates with that name. Additional details can help you find the correct entry more efficiently.
    • The most efficient way to find someone in jail is to look them up by their inmate ID number, but chances are you won't have this information until after you've found them in an inmate database.
  3. Image titled Find Someone in Jail Step 3
    Determine the court where the person was convicted. The name and location of the court may provide clues to the location and type of correctional facility where the person is serving time.
    • As an initial matter, you must find out if the person was convicted of a state or federal crime. Anyone convicted of a crime in federal court will be in a federal prison, whereas someone convicted of a state crime may be in a state jail or prison.
    • Typically a person convicted in a state court will be serving his or her sentence in a correctional facility in the same state. However, the person may have been transferred if, for example, she was a resident of one state but committed a crime in another.
    • The location of the person within the state also may depend on the availability of space in nearby jails and prisons.[1]
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    Search criminal court records. Since where someone is serving time often depends on the type and degree of crime he or she was convicted of committing, criminal records can help you figure out where the inmate is located.
    • Keep in mind that you may be charged a small fee to conduct full searches of criminal records, but you should be able to get basic information such as the crime for which the person was convicted for free.
    • The National Center for State Courts has a directory of online criminal records available for each state.[2]
    • People convicted of less serious offenses typically are housed in county jails, while those convicted of more serious or violent offenses probably are in state prisons. Jails tend to hold non-violent offenders serving shorter sentences, while prisons have greater security and restrictions and are designed for violent offenders serving longer sentences.[3]

Method 2
Locating a Federal Inmate

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    Visit the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website. The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains a database of all federal inmates incarcerated from 1982 to the present.[4]
    • If the person you're looking for was incarcerated prior to 1982, the online inmate locator may not have any record of him or her. To find those records, you must contact the National Archives Records Administration rather than the BOP.[5]
    • While the BOP occasionally houses some inmates convicted of state crimes or those convicted of felonies in the District of Columbia, the records primarily are of those convicted of federal crimes in a federal court.[6]
  2. Image titled Find Someone in Jail Step 6
    Conduct an inmate search. You can search either by the inmate's BOP Register Number or by name.[7]
    • Searching by BOP Register Number is the most efficient way to find someone in federal prison, but you typically won't know this information the first time you search.
    • The BOP inmate locator searches by first and last name, but also includes fields for race, age, and sex that you can fill in to narrow your search results.[8]
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    Retrieve the correct listing from the search results. Depending on how much you narrowed your search, you may have to sift through several listings to find the right person.
    • Each listing will include the inmate's name, BOP Register Number, age, sex, race, and release date or prison location. Clicking on the prison name will take you to that prison's website, where you can find an address or contact information for the prison itself.[9]

Method 3
Locating a State Inmate

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    Register with VINELink. VINELink is provided by the National Victim Notification Network, and has information about the location and custody status of state prisoners nationwide.[10][11]
    • Keep in mind that to find an inmate on VINELink, you must first know the state in which he or she is incarcerated. Additionally, VINELink has information about state inmates only, not inmates housed in federal corrections facilities.[12]
    • You can search for any inmate by entering his or her first and last name or inmate ID number. The search engine also has additional fields such as birthdate or age range that you can complete if you know that information to limit your search results and increase your chances of finding the right person.[13][14]
    • You don't have to register to conduct a search, but you must set up a user account if you want to save your search or receive notifications.[15]
    • Once you set up a user account, you can choose to receive an email or text message when the person's custody status changes or they are moved to a different location.[16]
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    Visit the state corrections department website. Each state's corrections department has a website that will provide you with information about the department and its network of jails and prisons.[17]
    • The home page of state or county corrections departments typically include links to information about each jail or prison and their populations, as well as FAQs and information on searching for particular inmates.[18]
  3. Image titled Find Someone in Jail Step 10
    Find the site's search engine. Most states have a searchable database listing all inmates currently housed in correction facilities.
    • Be sure to read the information included on the initial search page regarding the accuracy of the records in the database and how often they're updated. This is particularly important if you're looking at a city or county's website rather than a whole state.
    • Larger cities and counties may update the online database frequently, while more rural areas may only update every few days or once a week.[19][20]
  4. Image titled Find Someone in Jail Step 11
    Conduct an inmate search. You typically can search using the person's first and last name, or his or her inmate ID number.[21]
    • Keep in mind you must have the person's correct legal name as it appears on court records or government-issued identification.[22]
    • Some systems also allow you to limit your search by including optional information such as the inmate's birthdate, age, or race. Others allow you to search by other identification numbers such as the inmate's Social Security number.[23][24][25]
  5. Image titled Find Someone in Jail Step 12
    Retrieve the correct listing from the search results. Depending on how extensively you've been able to narrow your search results, as well as the size of the department you're searching, you may have to review several records before you find the correct person.
    • Once you've found the correct person, the listing typically will provide you with additional information including the location where the inmate is housed and his or her inmate ID number. You may want to make note of that number so you can search more quickly if you need to find him or her again.

Article Info

Categories: Criminal and Penal Law Procedure