You can usually determine the status of anyone in a state, county or federal prison online for free. The majority of offenders are listed in a national database, called the VINE network. However, not all inmates are included. If that's the case, then you can check with additional resources at both the state and federal level.
The VINE Network
The VINE network allows crime victims and other concerned citizens to keep tabs on an offender's custody status. Over 2,900 state and county agencies from 48 states share offender custody status and criminal justice information with VINE.
Using VINE is free. Enter the information you have on an offender in the VINE website, vinelink.com, to see the offender's status. To be notified about a change in status, such as a prisoner's release date, register for a confidential, free account, and you will be notified automatically. VINE also offers access to its information through a 24-hour toll-free number and a mobile app.
Using the VINE Network
Select the state where the offender is incarcerated on vinelink.com and click "Find an Offender." The instructions vary with different states. In most cases, you can simply enter the offender's name. However, in other jurisdictions, you may need the offender's identification number, or you may need to select a specific county within the state.
If you are a victim, a witness or a relative, you should be able to get the information from the prosecutor's office that was involved with the case.
Restrictions on VINE
Not all offenders are listed in the VINE database, including federal inmates. Maine and South Dakota do not participate in VINE. Seven states that participate in VINE do not include information for all counties. Arizona inmates, for example, are listed only if they are in the Tuscon or Glendale regions.
Other Ways to Search
To get information on offenders who are not in the database, you may need to contact the department of corrections in that state. Both Maine and South Dakota offer their own online search services, which are available to all members of the public (see Resources).
California restricts access to its inmate information – at both the state and county level – to victims, next of kin and witnesses. If you want to know the status of an inmate in California, your request will be reviewed first to determine if you're eligible.
Federal Offender Information
If the offender you are looking for was sentenced to a federal prison for breaking a federal law, you can find information about that offender's status in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BoP, database using its Inmate Locator website (see Resources). This service is also free and confidential.
Information on federal offenders who have already been released but are in a halfway house or have been paroled is also listed in the BOP's Inmate Locator service, including the inmate's current location. The BOP does not maintain records of former inmates who were released before 1982.
A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has worked as a consultant for many small businesses and non-governmental organizations, including several law firms and bar associations. David has also has written hundreds of articles on legal matters and small business trends for newspapers, magazines and online publications including About.com and American Express.