How to Locate a Person in Prison

Federal and state prisons as well as local jails keep current records on the whereabouts of their inmates. You can write to or telephone a jurisdiction to locate an inmate but most state governments have prisoner locator pages on their Web sites, as do many county jails. Federal prisoners are also easy to locate through the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Before hiring a private investigator or paying fees to a commercial Web site, do a little investigating on your own.

Locating a Prisoner

Determine if the inmate is being held in a state or federal prison. State governments operate prisons that hold inmates convicted of crimes within their jurisdictions. The Federal Bureau of Prisons keeps track of inmates convicted of crimes in U.S. district courts as well as some people whose charges have not been decided or dismissed.

Access the Web site in the state where the person is incarcerated or the Federal Bureau of Prisons (see resources). For instance, in Ohio, you can locate the housing of inmates and sex offenders through pages on the state's rehabilitation and correction Web site. The U.S. Justice Department's Federal Bureau of Prisons has a Web site with a system to locate inmates in federal lockups.

Enter the prisoner's name; first and last names are required. Refine the search by entering as much information on the offender as possible. On Ohio's rehabilitation and correction Web site, for example, you can include the prisoner's offender identification number, the county where he's incarcerated and his county of residence, age, race and gender. The Federal Bureau of Prisons allows you to search for a prisoner by name, but recommends entering the offender's ID number on its site. The F.B.O.P. says the prisoner's ID number is on written correspondence and records of the case.


  • Only people convicted or accused of violating U.S. laws are sent to federal prisons. The Bureau does not have any information on state or local inmates.
  • Locate prisoner ID numbers in case records; a prisoner identification number is not necessary for a Web site search but it is recommended for accuracy.

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