How To Find an Inmate in the US

How To Find an Inmate in the US

Maintaining contact with a newly incarcerated individual may be difficult as most people have no idea where to start. In many cases, inmates cannot communicate with the outside world; when they do, most correctional facilities limit communication time. Factors like restrictive mail exchange and strict telephone policies deny most inmates the opportunity of notifying their loved ones of their whereabouts. 

Many prison authorities have developed online prisoner locator tools to make conducting local, state, or nationwide inmate searches simpler. Depending on the state, these databases contain information on currently incarcerated individuals and/or those on parole. Additionally, there’s a database that maintains information on sex offenders at the county and state levels. However, locating some of these databases might be a challenge.

This article will present information that will assist you in overcoming any challenges you may have when attempting to locate and communicate with an offender. It’s even beneficial for the inmates that you reach out to them, as studies indicate that recidivism rates significantly reduce among inmates with enhanced support systems.  

Understanding the United States Incarceration System 

A vast majority of residents do not understand how the country’s prison system works. The initial step would be to understand the possible locations of incarcerated individuals. To begin with, inmates can end up in the custody of:

  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons
  • State Prisons
  • County Jail System
  • Private Prisons

 Before beginning the search process, you should ensure you know the prison system your loved one is in. If you don’t have this information, you can start by searching in each of the abovementioned prison system databases. 

How to Locate an Inmate in the Federal Bureau of Prisons 

Inmates in the Federal Bureau of Prisons system include individuals awaiting trial or convicts already sentenced for breaking federal law. Information on felony convicts from the District of Columbia is also available through the Federal Bureau of Prisons database. 

The process of locating a federal prisoner is rather simple. The initial process involves visiting the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Inmate Locator. This website allows interested parties to search by Number or by Name. When utilizing the former option, you can further narrow the results by choosing between BOP Register Number, FBI Number, and INS Number. 

If you’re using the latter option, you can provide an inmate’s first, middle, and last name in conjunction or separately. However, for accurate results, ensure you input at least two names. It’s possible to further narrow the results by including the convict’s race, age, and gender. Including these options comes in handy when the name is popular such that the search results list multiple inmates bearing the particular name. 

The BOP Search Results 

After a successful search process, the results will indicate various information about an inmate, including:

  • Name
  • Register Number
  • Age
  • Race
  • Possible Release Date
  • Facility of Incarceration

Additional Information About the Federal Inmates Locator Tool 

The information below concerns the prisoner locator tool and the search results:

  • The release date of a federal prisoner appears as “Released on ___” in case the inmate is no longer in the Bureau’s custody.
  • The results available through the locator tool only relate to inmates incarcerated past 1982. You’ll need to contact the National Archives to learn more about offenders before this period.
  • The inmate’s good behavior time release date is the time on the Release Date data point. Simply, the release date you find after successful searches includes any anticipated credit for good behavior time. As such, in case the behavior of inmates deteriorates, they will lose the good conduct time. Consequently, the authorities will adjust the release dates of such inmates to incorporate the lost time.
  • Prior to November 1, 1987, a convict was considered an “Old Law” inmate. Such inmates are eligible for parole, and the Release Date section on the BOPs offender locator tool indicates “Statutory Release Date.” This is an inmate’s total incarceration duration without good conduct time. The inmate’s parole date will be based on the Statutory Release Date and will occur before it.
  • Sometimes, the search results may indicate that the inmate is in a Regional Office. In such a case, the inmate is in a State’s Department of Corrections custody. This happens when the convict serves two concurrent sentences, one being a federal offense and the other a state offense.
  • The location after a successful search result might indicate “In Transit.” This means that the offender is presently under transportation from one place to another. Usually, this happens when Federal Officers move inmates from one prison to another or between halfway houses.

Locating Someone in Prison for an Immigration Offense 

Over the years, the United States government has been holding several immigrants through the Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The following reasons necessitate holding the immigrants:

  • Unlawful entry into the country
  • Upon receiving asylum but before actual entry into the country
  • Before deportation from the United States. Deportation occurs for various reasons, including engaging in unlawful activities in the country.

Mandatory detention for the abovementioned individuals began in 1996 under President Bill Clinton’s directives. This happened after the passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act

Custom and Border Protection 

Usually, this body holds immigrants at the border and port entries for at most 72 hours, after which authorities transfer them to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s custody. However, in most cases, this timeline exceeds 72 hours, as these individuals may spend over a week in these facilities. 

Solitary Confinement of Immigrants under ICE 

ICE often employs solitary confinement in detention institutions. Today, statistics indicate there are over 300 immigrants in solitary confinement, with the authorities providing the following reasons for the confinement:

  • Immigrants who are a threat to the security and well-being of other inmates.
  • Immigrants awaiting transfer to other facilities or a disciplinary hearing.
  • Where the immigrant commits a serious offense in violation of the institution’s codes.
  • Where the detainee has conditions that warrant segregation, like medical conditions and pregnancies.

How Do You Locate Immigration Detainees?

The search option available allows you to:

  • Locate individuals currently in the custody of ICE or CBP for violation of immigration laws.
  • Locate immigrants who are no longer in the ICE’s custody, having been released within 60 days.

The Online Detainee Locator System provides information on all immigrants (18 years and above) in any United States correctional facility. The website offers two broad search categories; Search by A-Number and Search by Biographical Information option. 

ICE suggests doing the A-Number search if you are aware of the number. This is a digit number immigrants receive when they end up in ICE’s custody. Note that the website only accepts nine digits for a successful search. Hence, if the number has fewer digits, you must add zeros to the beginning. In addition, you must choose the detainee’s country of origin to complete the search process.

The Biographical Information is basically a search by name category. When utilizing it, ensure you provide the exact detainees’ first and last names. This includes hyphenated names where you must include the hyphen, failure to which the results will be faulty. Providing the detainee’s country of origin is also mandatory. 

Sometimes, the search results may be unsuccessful. In such a case, the best option is to contact the Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations. Even better, call the particular immigration detention center directly if you know where your loved one is. This link contains contact information on all ICE facilities. 

Locating a State Inmate 

Most state prisons are managed by the particular state’s department of corrections. These correctional facilities’ roles are diverse but mainly entail housing inmates who break state laws. Other times, these prisons are temporary holding facilities for inmates awaiting trial or transfer to federal prisons. 

The Freedom of Information Act considers inmate details to be public information. As such, states are required to make it available to the public in an easily accessible manner. Usually, state departments of corrections maintain databases containing this data, which interested individuals can access by visiting the inmate’s incarceration facility or the DOC headquarters. 

Alternatively, you can utilize the online websites under the maintenance of these departments. This state DOC offender lookup process is similar to the BOP’s but might vary slightly depending on the state. In addition, some websites include information on released inmates, while others only have data on current prisoners. For instance, the Arizona DOC inmate locator tool enables interested parties to search for active and inactive convicts as well as parolees. Search by Absconders option is also available. 

Third-Party Websites 

Since incarceration data is public information, various third-party websites provide access to offender information. Some of these websites do not charge for their services, but the information they provide is limited. On the other hand, those that charge individuals to access the prisoner records offer comprehensive data, although it may not be up-to-date. This happens because inmate custody status regularly changes due to factors like misconduct and facility transfers. Hence, ensure you don’t entirely rely on what you find from these sites. 

County Jails 

County jails are correctional facilities that hold inmates serving sentences of less than one year. They also house defendants awaiting trial who are currently attending court hearings and have no funds to post bail. 

Other responsibilities of these jails include managing inmates from state and federal prisons with less than six months left to parole. The county jails ensure these inmates transition into the community smoothly by offering them work release programs. 

The Sheriff’s Office oversees these correctional facilities’ activities, including inmate recruitment and security provision. Additionally, the office is the primary custodian of all inmate records.

How to Find an Inmate in County Jails

The initial step when locating an inmate in county jails would be to visit the local Sheriff’s Office. Through the office, you’ll learn whether the inmate has been in jail, and in case of a facility transfer, you’ll know where they’ve been transferred to. 

If this isn’t an option, you can visit the Sheriff’s Office online website and navigate to the jail section. Most websites have an inmate search option that lets you know the inmates currently incarcerated in the facility. Like the state inmate search option, you’ll need several inmate details for a successful search, with the most common being the inmate’s name and incarceration number. 

Lastly, most websites also offer third-party jail rosters. All you need to do is google the particular jail you suspect your loved one is located at and add “jail roster” at the end. Usually, these websites charge a fee depending on whether you want to receive the hard copy results via mail. 

In most cases, county jail inmates receive up to 90% jail time reduction on their final sentences based on good conduct time. Hence, it’s possible for you to see varying release dates at different times.  

Locating Inmates in City Jails 

Usually, city jails are temporary holding facilities and are run and managed by local police departments. The facilities hold individuals who commit minor crimes like loitering and those awaiting transfer to county or state jails. The jails also house those transitioning back into the community for parole from state prisons. 

To find an inmate in a city jail, you must visit the local police department and inquire. The department will provide an inmate roster indicating inmate bookings within the city. Some of the information available on the roster include:

  • Detainee’s Name
  • Booking Number
  • Book Date
  • Location of Arrest
  • Reason for Arrest

Alternatively, you can access the jail roster online, although it might be difficult as some police departments lack websites.

Locating Released Inmates

Presently, most states do not offer information on already released inmates. The only exception is for sex offenders who have to report to authorities regularly. If you’re looking for the whereabouts of already released persons, contact the state’s DOC or public records office for assistance. 

Important Tips When Searching for an Inmate 

Note that authorities do not update their databases continuously, with some doing so within a few days or hours. Hence, it’s imperative that you wait for a day or two and search again if your initial search was unsuccessful. 

Additionally, there are cases where there have been arrests and prosecution of individuals without the convicts disclosing their actual names. A good example is the case of illegal immigrants who lack proper identification documents. In such a case, conducting a successful inmate search would be difficult.