How Do I Find People in the Prison System?

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For any number of personal reasons, you may want to find someone who is currently an inmate in the prison system. With upward of 2 million people in American jails and state and Federal correctional facilities scattered around the country, the task can be daunting. However, you can narrow down your search and use modern technology to locate an inmate. All but one of the 50 states have made or are making prison inmate lists available to the public, via the Internet.

Go to the official state website of the state in which the inmate is incarcerated if the prisoner is in a state prison. Official state websites end in .gov rather than .com, .org, .net or some other domain designation.

If the prisoner is in a Federal prison, go to the website of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which is part of the United States Department of Justice. You can use the BOP link in the References section, which will take you directly to the inmate search page.

See the Tips section for instructions on how to find prisoners in Maine and South Dakota.

Use the internal search bar on the state website to look for the "Department of Corrections, inmate locator" in all but three of the 48 states that have online inmate locators. In Maryland look for the "Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, inmate locator." In Ohio look for the "Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, inmate locator." In Texas look for the "Department of Criminal Justice, inmate locator." You may have to agree to their terms of service.

Enter the appropriate information in the inmate locator or inmate search bar. You will probably have options. For example, you may be able to search by name, prison, or by an offender identification number.


  • In South Dakota, which prohibits using the Internet to locate an inmate, you must call the South Dakota Department of Corrections Central Records office at 605-367-5190 or 605-367-5140 to get information on inmates.
  • In Maine, which is still developing its online locator, send an email to to find an inmate. Include the following information in the body of your email: the full name of the inmate, date of birth, DOC number (if you have it), your full name, your address and a short explanation outlining what information you want and why. Check their state website first to see if their online locator is up.



About the Author

Cat Reynolds has written professionally since 1990. She has worked in academe (teaching and administration), real estate and has owned a private tutoring business. She is also a poet and recipient of the Discover/The Nation Award. Her work can be found in literary publications and on various blogs. Reynolds holds a Master of Arts in writing and literature from Purdue University.

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