can you search prison inmates

Can You Search Prison Inmates?

Prisons are supposed to keep meticulous records about everything that goes on inside, especially when it comes to the inmates. They have to know who is in the facility and how many inmates are in camp. But that’s not all — they have to know where each inmate is located at all times. 

Head counts are performed numerous times a day throughout every American prison and jail to make sure that everyone is where they are supposed to be, and that everyone is accounted for. If a count is off, the prison will lock down until they can figure out the problem.

The same thing goes for each state’s department of corrections, as well as the federal bureau of prisons. Each of those departments and the bureau are supposed to know where every prison  inmate in their custody is located at all times.

Just because prisons are supposed to be keeping good records, that doesn’t necessarily mean a person on the outside can get access to those records anytime they want. Do prisons have to share their inmate databases with the public, or do they keep those details private? Can you search for prison inmates?

In today’s blog post, I will cover the following topics:

  • How to search for an inmate in federal custody
  • How to search for an inmate in state custody
  • How to search for an inmate in ICE custody
  • What about county jails?

How to search for an inmate in federal custody

A person is in federal custody when they are convicted of committing a federal crime. The vast majority of crimes people are prosecuted for are under state criminal codes, which means they are in state custody with the department of corrections for committing a state crime. 

But, there are some common federal crimes — like drug trafficking, illegal immigration, sex crimes, and fraud/embezzlement — that people do time for in federal facilities. Which means they are in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. 

Out of the 2.3 million Americans who are locked up, approximately 226,000 are in federal prisons. If you have an inmate who is in federal custody, and you need to find out where they are being held, you can do a search on the BOP website. You can do a search by inmate name or by their BOP number. 

For example, murderer Dylann Roof was convicted under federal hate crime charges in 2015. To find out where he is being held, simply click on the BOP search page and enter his first and last name. You can also enter race, gender, and age if you know this information.

When you hit search, the BOP website will tell you the following information:

Name: DYLANN STORM ROOF
Register Number: 28509-171
Age: 27
Race: White
Sex: Male
Release Date: DEATH SENT
Located At: USP Terre Haute

You can even find information for a federal inmate who has been released. Real Housewives of New Jersey star Teresa Giudice did almost a year behind bars for bankruptcy fraud charges in 2015. When you put her first and last name into the search engine, you’ll get this:

Name: TERESA GIUDICE
Register Number: 65703-050
Age: 49
Race: White
Sex: Female
Released On: 02/05/2016

The winner of Survivor season 1, Richard Hatch, went to federal prison for not paying his income taxes on his $1 million prize. Here is what you get when you put his name into the BOP search.

Name: RICHARD HATCH
Register Number: 05559-070
Age: 60
Race: White
Sex: Male
Released On: 12/12/2011

How to search for an inmate in state custody

When someone is convicted of a state crime — which is much more common than a federal crime — they are being held in the custody of the state’s department of corrections. In 2020, approximately 1.3 million inmates in the United States were incarcerated in state prisons.

To search for an inmate who is being held in a state prison, you have to know what state they were convicted in. The state DOC databases only include current inmates and those who are on parole. Inmates who have served their sentence and who are no longer on parole can’t be found in the database.

For example, I am no longer in the Missouri DOC database since I have walked down my paper and am no longer on parole. 

You can find notorious inmates in the DOC database, like Jodi Arias in Arizona. If you go into the Arizona DOC inmate search, type in Arias, J, and select “female” to get this result:

Last Name First Name Middle Initial
ARIAS JODI A
Gender Height (inches) Weight Hair Color
FEMALE 65 125 BROWN
Eye Color Ethnic Origin Custody Class Admission
BROWN CAUCASIAN Medium/Low 04/13/2015
Projected Eligible Release Date
Prison Release Date Release Type
Natural Life SENTENCE EXPIRATION
Most Recent Location As of Date
Complex Unit Last Movement Status
PERRYVILLE ASPC-PV LUMLEY MDM 05/06/2020 ACTIVE
Inmate Mailing Address
ASPC Perryville, Lumley Unit

JODI A. ARIAS 281129

PO Box 3300

Goodyear, AZ 85338

United States

If you visit the California DOC website, and search for convicted killer Scott Peterson, this is the result you would get:

Inmate Information

The information displayed below is subject to change and may update daily

Inmate Name PETERSON, SCOTT LEE
CDCR Number V72100
Age 49
Admission Date 03/17/2005
Current Location San Quentin State Prison
Location Link Directions
Parole Eligible Date (Month/Year) CONDEMNED
Parole Eligible Date Information The inmate shown above is serving a death sentence and is, therefore, not eligible for parole consideration.
Additional Information VICTIM NOTIFICATION:  Victims who wish to request services must register with CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services. For further information, or to inquire about court ordered restitution, please visit CDCR’s Office of Victim and Survivor Rights and Services website or call toll-free 1-877-256-6877

If you know the state your inmate was convicted in, simply type that state’s name into Google followed by inmate search. So, if you are looking for someone in Colorado, simply type “Colorado Inmate Search” into Google. The first result is the Colorado DOC inmate locator

As long as you know the inmate’s first and last name, you should be able to find them. Every state has a DOC database that you should be able to search whenever you are looking for information.

Now, I have heard of situations where an inmate can get “lost” in the database. Maybe they were transferred from one facility to another, and the information isn’t coming up in the search. If you have trouble finding where your inmate is being held, call the state DOC office and ask for assistance.

How to search for an inmate in ICE custody

If you are looking for someone who is being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the first place to look for them is in the ICE online detainee locator system. The more information you have, the better. This service is available in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian, Chinese, and a few other languages that I do not recognize.

When you are looking for someone in ICE custody, you can search by their “A-number” — which is similar to a DOC number — and their country of birth.

“If you know the detainee’s A-Number, ICE recommends you use the A-Number search. The A-Number must be exactly nine digits long. If the A-Number has fewer than nine digits, please add zeros at the beginning. You are also required to select the detainee’s correct Country of Birth,” the instructions read.

You can also search by biographical information. You’ll need the person’s first and last name, country of birth, and birthdate (if possible) to use the bio information method.

Please note that the online detainee locator system does not keep records for anyone under the age of 18.

What about county jails?

When it comes to county jails, it’s hit and miss for inmate locators. Some of the bigger counties will have online databases to search. But, most county jails do not keep an updated inmate roster online for people to search.

If you think someone you know is being held in a county jail, you can go through the database on Prison Insight to see if the facility has an online inmate search feature. Otherwise, you can call the facility directly to find out if your loved one is being held. 

Do you have a question about prison inmate searches that I didn’t answer in this blog post? Let us know in the comments below, and I’ll do my best to find out the info you need.

Sources:

THE 5 MOST COMMON FEDERAL CRIMES FOR EVERYDAY CITIZENS

https://www.bruceudolf.com/the-5-most-common-federal-crimes-for-everyday-citizens/

Prison Policy Initiative: Mass Incarceration The Whole Pie 2020

https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html

Find an Inmate

https://www.bop.gov/inmateloc/

Online Detainee Locator System

https://locator.ice.gov/odls/#/index

Missouri Offender Search

https://web.mo.gov/doc/offSearchWeb/

About the Author Natalie

Natalie earned her Bachelors degree in Journalism from the University of Kansas, and has worked in television and radio during her career. When she was a 19-year-old sophomore at KU, she got her first on-air job as a sports reporter for a CBS-TV affiliate. In 2013, she was sentenced to 30 years in prison for the possession and production of marijuana. She was released in 2017. We've kept her last name off of our website so that she does not experience any professional hardship for her contributions.

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