How to do an Inmate Search: Locate Any Federal and State Jail Records

article by Nicky Hoseck
March 05, 2020
Have you lost touch with an old friend or family member? Has your brother been ignoring his phone and you’re worried about his whereabouts? It may be worth performing an inmate search, especially if such behavior is out of character.

With over 2.3 million people currently being held by the American criminal justice system, trying to find an inmate could be as difficult as trying to find a needle in a haystack. If you know where to look, however, conducting an inmate search as falling off a log.

There are public records for all state and local prisons, not to mention juvenile correctional faculties, military prisons, Indian Country jails, and federal prisons. While you can search these records for free, it could mean trawling through hundreds, if not thousands of websites.

A better option is to use a background check company to perform the jail inmate search for you.

How to Perform an Inmate Search

Whether the person you’re looking for is in prison or jail, the inmate search process is much the same and requires little information. One of the first hurdles is how to find jail records and to understand how prison and jail records differ. As prisons are federal facilities, you can perform a single, nationwide search whereas a Department of Corrections inmate search requires you to know which state the person was imprisoned in.

There are public resources that you can access for free and performing an inmate search on the Federal Bureau of Prisons site is simple and requires only the inmate’s first and last names, race and gender, although you can narrow the search down by entering a middle name and age.

For those wondering, “Are jail records public?”, a quick trip to the VINELink website will prove that they are and give you access to another way of searching jail records. VINE, or the Victim Notification system, covers 19 states and provides detailed inmate charges information, including where an inmate is being detained, along with contact details for both the detention center and the reporting agency.

VINELink also provides a notification service so you can receive an email, text message, or phone call letting you know when the inmate in question is released or moved to another facility.

Many states keep details of their correctional faculty inmates online, making accessing them easier, although you will need more information to conduct an inmate search of this nature. We tested the Georgia Department of Corrections inmate search and found it required the following information:

  • First and last names
  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age (between x and y)

If you don’t have this information and you’re trying to find someone with a common name, you could find this approach rather frustrating.

Although you can access public records like jail records online, using a background check company to do the legwork for you will both save you time and give you more in-depth results. A prison search for inmate can be done with one of the best public records search engines and will give you more information than you can shake a stick at.

Best Background Check Services for Inmate Search

#1 BeenVerified


Founded 14 years ago, BeenVerified is a reliable background check service that produces more accurate results than many and presents them in an easy-to-read format. With both arrest records and jail records searches available, BeenVerified can help you find people in almost any detention center or correctional faculty in the US.

If you choose to, you can also use BeenVerified’s arrest records search to find out if someone has a history of drug violations, theft, fraud, or violent crime. This type of information is vital for those running a background check on someone new in their lives, be it a neighbor, a member of the school carpool, or an online date.

BeenVerified produces accurate reports in a matter of minutes. With mobile apps available for both iOS and Android devices, users can receive detailed inmate charges information on any US resident wherever they are in the world.

BeenVerified is easy to use, making it ideal for those who’ve never conducted a background check or inmate search before. Although you can’t purchase a one-off report, you can get a competitively priced one-month subscription and spend 30 days enjoying unlimited searches, reverse phone lookups, and criminal background checks. Want to be sure of BeenVerified’s accuracy? Why not use it to perform a background check on yourself and verify the precision of their reports that way?

While it would be nice to see BeenVerified modernize its customer support and introduce a single-report option, it’s nevertheless one of the best ways of conducting a prison inmate search and accessing inmate charges information. Even if the information isn’t available digitally, BeenVerified offers a court runner service that will physically retrieve paper documents if necessary.

Sign up with BeenVerified today and access public jail records in minutes. Learn more on this service with our Beenverfied Review.

#2 TruthFinder

truthfinder logo

Although TruthFinder doesn’t offer a dedicated inmate search option, its public records search is just as effective. Once you’ve received your comprehensive background check report, simply head over to the criminal records section where you’ll find prison and jail records, arrest details, and information about the offense committed.

Despite not having a specific arrest records search, Truth Finder’s background check reports contain more details than many other prison inmate searches manage to produce. In a TruthFinder report, you can expect to find basic information including a person’s name and date of birth, alongside the following:

  • Arrest details and classification
  • Offense
  • Case type
  • Counts
  • Current prison status
  • Date of incarceration
  • Sentence length and end date
  • Prison and parole details
  • Prison location

TruthFinder is upfront about its shortcomings and notes that “if someone was arrested in the last 24 hours, it’s not likely to show up on their report”. It nevertheless offers some useful advice on how to perform a prison search for inmates arrested in the past couple of days.

Unlike BeenVerified, TruthFinder gives users the option of purchasing a single report rather than committing to a subscription. A one-off report will cost you $17.48 so it’s not particularly cost-effective, especially not as a 30-day subscription will give you unlimited background searches, reverse phone lookups and people searches and costs just over $10 more.

Want to give it a whirl? Sign up with TruthFinder here. Learn more on Truthfinder capabilities with Our extensive Review.

#3 Instant Checkmate

instant checkmate logo

If you’re struggling to find a solution to “How do I find an inmate?”, Instant Checkmate might just have the answer for you. Although it doesn’t go as far as BeenVerified in terms of searching jail records, it does offer a federal inmate search that will give you a surprising amount of information before you even hand over the subscription fee.

Instant Checkmate’s inmate search will give you a list of possible candidates, along with their full names, ages, location, and release date for free but, if you want to find out more, you can hand over $34.78 and access their criminal history, location history, and much more. While $34.78 might seem a little steep for a single report, it will give you a month’s unlimited access to Instant Checkmate’s searches and reports.

With access to multiple public records and databases, including federal and state resources, Instant Checkmate can give you a comprehensive insight into an individual, their criminal past, and their current location, be it in a correctional faculty, detention center, or just at home after being released.

For victims of a crime, finding out that the perpetrator has been released can be a devastating experience, but an Instant Checkmate inmate search can also go some way to setting victims; minds at rest, as they can keep tabs on the perpetrator’s current location. Don’t forget – forewarned is forearmed.

Instant Checkmate doesn’t offer a monitoring or notification service, making it more difficult to keep up-to-date with an individual’s latest movements but, once you’ve got the necessary information from an Instant Checkmate inmate search, you can use it to check jail records and other public data sources free of charge.

Sign up with Instant Checkmate and learn how to find jail records quickly and effectively. Also Read further our Instant Checkmate review.

What Turns Up In An Inmate Search?

How do I locate a prisoner? Using one of the best background check services can tell you where an individual inmate is currently located as well as the following:

  • First and last names
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Current location
  • Release Date

Some inmate searches will give you additional information, including valuable snippets gleaned from the individual’s arrest records. These will tell you both when a person was arrested and why. If the person you’re researching has had several run-ins with the law, their arrest records should reflect these and, depending on their location and jurisdiction, may include traffic offenses and even business-related misdemeanors.

If the initial inmate search doesn’t provide you with the depth of information you were hoping for, it should give you enough details to perform a more in-depth background check that will give you the following insights in addition to those listed above:

  • Criminal history including previous charges and convictions
  • Marriages and divorces
  • Child support orders
  • Educational establishments attended and academic qualifications
  • Employment history
  • Current and past addresses
  • Contact details
  • Census data
  • Sex offender registry entries
  • Social media profiles
  • Professional licenses
  • Property owned
  • Assets
  • Bankruptcies

In other words, the best people search engines will tell you almost everything you could possibly need to know, beyond an individua’s favorite color or inside leg measurement.

Why Do An Inmate Search?

There are various reasons someone might want or even need to conduct a jail inmate search. Maybe your uncle was arrested a couple of months ago, but you’ve only just found out. Now you know, you want details about why he was arrested, how long he’s likely to be in prison for, and where he’s being held.

Others may be anxious about an inmate who previously committed a crime against them. Whether they simply want to get in touch to talk through the incident and allow the perpetrator to apologize, or want to be prepared for their release, an inmate search is a great way to get the information you need to get closure.

For some, tracking down old friends that they were once incarcerated with requires a through inmate search, especially if that person has a long criminal record and is frequently moved from one facility to the next.

Maybe you already know where an inmate is being held but, for whatever reason, they won’t tell you exactly what happened or why they were arrested. An inmate search can reveal the details of the arrest, as well as the charges and convictions made against that person.

Don’t forget, it’s not only those convicted of a criminal offense that can be located with an inmate search and, in some states, “people arrested or charged with state crimes… who can’t post bail usually are kept in a county jail facility while their cases are pending”.

People arrested or charged with state crimes in California who can’t post bail usually are kept in a county jail facility while their cases are pending.

Inmate Searches, Jail Records and their Limitations

While an inmate search performed using a service like BeenVerified can produce a lot of information, they can be restricted by certain state and county laws.

For instance, if you’re searching for an incarcerated cousin but she committed the crime in a different state to the one she lives in, you’ll only be able to access as much of his criminal record as the state he’s currently in allows.

Similarly, if you want to know how to find jail records for someone in a juvenile detention center, you may find that those jail records are sealed. Are jail records public, then? In most instances, yes, but if the perpetrator is under 18 years of age, they can choose to have them sealed as soon as they come of age.

That is unless they’ve been convicted of a violent crime or sex offense, in which case their jail records will remain in the public realm.

Incarceration and Its Impact on US Society

While finding someone by using an inmate search is simple enough, solving the problem of mass incarceration and how it impacts on individual families and society is considerably more complicated.

Over 600,000 people are imprisoned every year in the US but that’s just a drop in the ocean when you consider that people are sent to jail 10.6 million times during a 12-month period. Jail reports include information on all those who are currently or have been in jail, regardless of the reason.

Jail churn, as it’s called, includes:

  • People who’ve just been arrested and are awaiting bail
  • People facing charges who are too poor to post bail and await their trial behind bars
  • People convicted of misdemeanor sentences of 12 months or less

Regardless of why an individual is in jail or prison, the consequences for that person’s family and future can be severe. Research suggests that “an estimated 2.7 million children – or 1 in 28 of those under the age of 18 – have a biological mother or father who is incarcerated in a local jail, state prison, or federal prison”. For them, having a parent behind bars has a financial, psychological, and emotional price to pay.

Similarly, the Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center found that “the cycles of jail time create uncertainty for children regarding how long their parent will be gone and when their parent will return, potentially causing more stress than it the parent went away to serve a long-term prison sentence”.

Campaigns like Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration initiative hope to tackle problems like these by increasing “opportunities for children to maintain relationships with an incarcerated parent”. Even for those without children, the stigma of an arrest can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

While incarceration has its place in the justice system, we need to ask ourselves “if it really makes sense to lock up 2.3 million people on any given day”.

We can, at least, be grateful for the fact that we are at liberty to conduct inmate searches and have access to public jail records so we can keep tabs on our friends and family members even when they’re inside a correctional faculty or detention center.

Nevertheless, it’s to consider “whether legitimate social goals are served by putting each group behind bars, and whether any benefit really outweighs the social and fiscal costs”.


If someone close to you has recently fallen off the radar, searching through the local jail records could help you locate them. Are jail records public? Yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easy to access. Not all states digitize their jail records which means a physical visit to the local police station or courthouse may be in order.

A simpler alternative is to use a reliable background check service, like BeenVerified, to conduct an inmate search on your behalf. This will not only produce results much faster but, in many instances, will give you more detailed information, including specifics about what that person was charged for and when they’re likely to be released.

With over two million people in US detention centers and correctional faculties at any one time, finding an individual inmate can be challenging, unless you know where to look. Background check services are like magnifying glasses and search engines combined. Combing through thousands of public records and data sources, they produce minutiae that few of us would ever unearth alone.

How do I locate a prisoner? By unleashing your inner detective and embracing the benefits of services like BeenVerified, TruthFinder, and Instant Checkmate that can conduct an inmate search in minutes while remaining largely accurate and up to date.