How to Find Out if Someone’s in Jail

Do you know how to find out if someone’s in jail?  Just thinking about it is daunting. Where do you even start?  Just a few decades ago, you had to call around to jails and prisons all over the country in an attempt to locate the person you were looking for.  Today, the internet makes it easy.

Records of every inmate exist, whether the person is held in a federal penitentiary or another jurisdiction.  When you search these online databases, however, you need specific information to get information.  In this article, we break down what you need to know.

Start With Basic Data

Make a list of everything you know about the person you are looking for, including the following:

  • First, middle and last name
  • Any nicknames
  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex

Next, where was the crime committed?  If you don’t know, your search can get complicated.  Out of the more than 6,800 federal and state prisons, local jails and juvenile correction facilities in the United States, how do you know where to look? 

If you don’t know the crime that was committed and where, you can use the information you have to narrow it down. Use the following tips.

Who Is Incarcerated and Where?

Jails and prisons are not the same.  Jails are where inmates are typically housed for a short period of time while they await trial or sentencing.  They also can be used for short sentences or misdemeanors of less than one year. 

Next are state and federal prisons.  Although there are a wide variety of federal violations, the inmates in a federal prison usually include those found guilty of political crimes and drug peddling.  Bank robbers and white-collar criminals also are housed in federal prisons.  State prisons, on the other hand, often hold more violent criminals, such as thieves, rapists and murderers.

It’s important to know the difference between the types of correctional facilities so you can determine where to look.  Back in 2007, when Paris Hilton, the hotel heiress and reality TV socialite, often behaved badly, sensational headlines announced that she was going to prison.  In fact, Hilton, sentenced to 45 days for parole violation on a reckless driving charge, was locked up in the Los Angeles County Jail.  Because of this, her record does not appear in the California State Correctional Facility’s record books. 

You also can’t always tell by the length of the sentence where the inmate will be held.  If you think that Martha Stewart spent five months in the New Jersey city jail, you’d be wrong.  Stewart, who served time for securities fraud, among other offenses, went to federal prison in West Virginia.

How to Find Out If Someone Is in Prison

Although there are only 110 federal prisons in the U.S. (compared to 1,833 state prisons), first try the federal inmate locator to eliminate federal prison as a possibility.  While you’re in the database, search for Stewart, born in August of 1941, to assure yourself it actually works.  You’ll find that she was released on March 4, 2005.  If you can’t find a record in the federal database, then move on to search by state.

In some cases, you may not find the information you need.  This could happen for a number of reasons, including:

  • You don’t know which location to search
  • The database only includes people who are currently incarcerated, not those released
  • The database is incomplete or infrequently maintained
  • You have an incomplete or common name, a nickname, or the person has changed names
  • The inmate is being held in a county or city jail that has no online database

Also, keep in mind that inmate databases typically do not reveal the reason for the incarceration.  In Arizona, for instance, if you want to know which crime was committed, you must visit the Office of the Clerk of the Court where the offense was adjudicated.  That’s not much help if you live in Massachusetts.

How to Look Up Inmates to Get the Information You Need

So, what do you do if you can’t find the information you need?  If your search attempts are fruitless, you need additional help.  A criminal background check can help. 

Using Spokeo’s powerful search engine capabilities and a little sleuthing, you can find the missing information, such as aliases and location by leveraging the information you do have access to.  You can even get access to criminal records (for an additional fee) that may reveal offense locations, convictions, pending criminal cases, and more. 

Is this a person you want to invite into your life or your business?  Spokeo can provide the information you need to enjoy greater peace of mind.

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