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Best Way to Find Someone in Jail for Free

Inside of jail

If you are looking to find someone in jail, you have a few options. If you’re not sure where to start, trying to find an inmate may feel overwhelming. So before you start Google searching every jail in your area, let’s walk through the basics.

Do you know the person’s name, address, or date of birth?

Maybe you know the county, city, or state where they committed the crime or even when and where their hearing was held. Obtaining as much basic information as possible will simplify the process.

We’ll walk through how to find out if someone is currently in jail and explore the best way to find which jail or federal prison they’re in.

How to Find Out If Someone Is in Jail

There are several reasons why you might need to find out if someone is in jail. Oftentimes, people know someone who was arrested and they want to know if they are still incarcerated.

Other times, families that move to a new area want to do research on convicted sex offenders. And sometimes, family members are in search of relatives they have not heard from in a while.

In any case, finding out if someone is in jail starts with knowing where the crime took place.

Even if you do not have the name of the criminal, you can quickly narrow down your search if you know which jurisdiction to focus on.

Use an Inmate Locator

To find someone in jail, you can start with your State Department of Corrections.

If you go to the state’s web page, you will be able to find a phone number to contact. You’ll also find resources like Sex Offender Registry, Offender Contact information, and Offender Visitation forms.

Many states will also have a search feature. Some state websites will refer to this as an Offender Database Search or an Inmate Search.

If you are unsure where to look for this feature, simply Google the state followed by “department of corrections inmate search.” It’ll be in one of the top search results.

Some counties do not have an online search feature, so you may have to call. If the jail you call is not where the inmate is located, try contacting nearby jails.

If the person you’re looking for was recently arrested, their information may not be in the system yet. You can always check every week or two. But typically it’s harder to find their information because arrestees are held in the county jail until they have a trial and are released or transferred to a more permanent location.

However, if the person you are searching for has been in jail longer than a month, you can use a few other resources to find out where they are located.

Best Way to Find Someone in Jail for Free

Once you have determined someone is in jail, you can start your search. If you know the jurisdiction where they were arrested, you can call the jail.

The Department of Corrections will be able to release public information to you about the person. Like their name, age, birthday, and gender. However, there are other ways to find someone in jail for free if you have limited information about them.

How to Find Someone in Jail With VINE Inmate Lookup

The best way to find someone in jail for free is VINE (Victim Information and Notification Everyday).

A victim notification network that “provides the most reliable information for custody status changes and criminal case information.”

On the site’s homepage, select the state where you want to search. Navigate to the “Find an Offender” button, where you will be prompted to type in the Offender ID number. Or, if you don’t know it, the inmate’s first and last name. You can also select “Advanced Search” to add the inmate’s facility name, date of birth, and age range.

When you find who you are looking for, you will see their inmate/offender ID, date of birth, race, gender, custody status, location, and scheduled release date. Anyone interested in the status of an inmate can register to be notified when the inmate is released or transferred. Notification is done by phone or email.

Note: VINE does not provide information on federal prisons, only local jails and state prisons. VINE is updated every day.

How to Find Someone in Prison

Finding someone in federal prison is a lot like finding someone in jail. The best way to locate information on a federal prisoner for free is to go to the Bureau of Federal Prisons. Then, go to the inmate locator tab. You can search by inmate number or name.

A list of results will appear with the inmates’ names, ID number, age, sex, race, and release date, or prison location. If you select the prison’s name, it will take you to that location’s website where you can find additional details.

Of course, if you know which jail or prison the inmate is located at, you can pull up its website and do a search. At least then you’ll know if the offender is still in custody.

Not all jails or prisons have this information online. In that case, simply call the jail or prison and ask them to provide the inmate’s status.

VINE and the BOP website are by far the best resources to find someone in jail for free. Their sites are constantly updated and contain the most information on inmates nationwide.

Another great free website is Inmates Plus. Click on the state where you want to search and then two options appear. One option is a search for the state prison. The second option is to search by county jail. Inmates Plus is updated daily.

How to Find Out If Someone Is Released From Jail

You know of someone who has been in jail or prison, but you’re unsure when they will be released.

You can find an inmate’s release date by calling the state’s Department of Corrections, searching their online database, or use a resource like VINELink. Although release dates are subject to change based on the inmate’s behavior.

If the inmate is incarcerated in a smaller facility, their release date may not show up on large databases.

If the inmate’s case was followed by the public, sometimes their release will be covered on local news stations. To learn more about this process, check out our step-by-step guide on  How to Find an Inmate’s Release Date.

How to View Local Mugshots

People might need to look up mug shots for many reasons. Some are looking for information on acquaintances who were arrested. Others are looking for their own mug shot. Still others may be browsing out of curiosity. Whatever their reason, finding local mug shots is easy. Several resources can be consulted, and the information is usually freely available.

Mug Shots From Law Enforcement Agencies

In some jurisdictions, mug shots are public record. Accordingly, it’s very easy to browse through the pictures. Start with the law enforcement agency’s website. These are easy to find by putting a county name and the words “sheriff’s department” into an online search engine. City police departments and highway patrol agencies may also have accessible websites. If mug shots are available, they should be easy to find by clicking on a link labeled “booking blotter” or something similar. This is probably the easiest search method available, particularly if you know which agency arrested the individual whose mug shot you’re seeking. If you’re not able to locate the particular mug shot you’re seeking, consider calling the law enforcement agency. They may allow you to come down to the station to search through their books of mug shots.

Mug Shots from Independent, Third Party Websites

Some online companies provide people with an opportunity to search for a mug shot through their website. This is often a fee based service, but it may make sense to try this if you’re not able to locate a mug shot through a law enforcement agency. If the company does not already have the mug shot you’re looking for in their database, they may be able to request it from the proper authorities. This may involve an additional fee.

Visiting a Corrections Center

Some jurisdictions do not post mug shots online and instead require people to visit in person. County or city jails may be able to accommodate your request to review mug shots. It’s generally advisable to call first to make certain that coming in person to ask to view mug shots is permissible.

Mug Shots from Media Outlets

Where mug shots are considered public records, it is not unusual for various media outlets to publicize them. Check websites for local networks and newspapers, as they usually post recent mug shots on their page for local news. Like using a law enforcement website, this is an easy method for obtaining mug shots.

What to Do If You or a Loved One Need Legal Assistance

If someone you care about is in jail or prison and needs legal help, you can get a free case evaluation to help you plan your next steps.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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