How to Locate an Inmate
There might be any number of reasons why you would need to locate an inmate serving a sentence in a state or federal prison or in a local jail. For example, you might have lost touch with a relative serving time after the person was transferred to another facility within that state's prison system, or you might need to serve process in a court proceeding against an inmate.
How to locate an inmate depends upon where the person is being held. Individuals serving sentences of up to one year for violations of state criminal laws are usually held in a local jail operated by the county sheriff. Inmates sentenced to more than one year usually end up in a state prison. Individuals who violate federal criminal laws serve their sentences in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Important: Know the law
The Federal Bureau of Prisons maintains a website on which you can locate an inmate either by the person's name or by an identifying number issued by one of the following federal agencies and assigned to the inmate:
- Bureau of Prisons register number
- District of Columbia Department of Corrections number
- Federal Bureau of Investigation number
- Immigration and Naturalization Service number
There are approximately 196,000 inmates in the federal prison system housed in facilities ranging from high security prisons housing inmates serving long sentences imposed by the courts to metropolitan detention centers holding individuals awaiting trial or awaiting transfer to a prison.
Locating inmates in state prison systems
Each state has its own prison system to house inmates serving sentences for violating state criminal laws. Most prison systems have web-based inmate locators that are similar to the one in the federal system in allowing people to search for an inmate by using as much identifying information about the inmate as is available. For instance, locating an inmate could be accomplished with just the name of the inmate or with the inmate number assigned by the state department of corrections.
Sometimes, it is better to limit the information you put into an inmate locator website in order to avoid getting inaccurate results. For example, including the name of a specific prison in addition to the name of the inmate could give you a "no inmate found" result if the inmate was transferred to another facility.
Locating inmates housed in local and county jails
Individuals awaiting trial on state criminal charges are usually housed in a local jail operated by the city or county sheriff's office or local department of corrections. This is also where you would find a person sentenced to serve a year or less.
Most local facilities have websites that allow you to locate an inmate using a name or other identifying information, such as an inmate number. Unlike state or federal systems that cover all facilities within a prison system, you must know the county or city in which the inmate is being held in order to go to the appropriate website.
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