In Texas, a person can look up an inmate in the county jail where they are incarcerated. If an inmate is housed at one of Texas’ state prisons, the person should look up the inmate on the inmate information page of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). (Before 1989, the department was known as the Texas Department of Corrections or TDC.)
The person can also email TDCJ at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, they can call the TDCJ’s general information line in Huntsville at 936-295-6371 or 800-535-0283 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Information Needed for Online Inmate Search
The information the searcher will need depends on the level (city or county, state or federal) of the incarceration facility. For the TDCJ, the searcher needs the offender's:
- First and last name.
- TDCJ number.
- State Identification Number (SID) assigned to a person’s arrest record.
- Race (American Indian, Asian or Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, White or unknown).
The minimum input for a successful TDCJ search is either the last name and at least the first initial of the first name, the TDCJ number or the SID number. If the searcher provides names, the system searches inmate records for an exact match of the last name provided.
The TDCJ’s information for inmates on its website is updated only on workdays, and the information is at least 24 hours old.
Call the Unit Before Picking Up a Family Member
Relatives of a Texas inmate should call the unit before picking up a family member who is being released.
Only inmates currently incarcerated in state correctional facilities such as Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville or Ferguson Unit in unincorporated Madison County, are included in the online search. The TDCJ will provide an inmate’s projected release date.
Inmates Not Under TDCJ Supervision
If a person is incarcerated but is not under TDCJ’s supervision, the searcher will need to contact the facility the person is in to see if the offender is there.
The offender may be in a federal prison run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, a prison outside the state, a county jail, in court for a proceeding or in a city jail. For facilities run by the Harris County Jail, a searcher will need the offender's:
- System Person Number (SPN) only.
- Social Security number only.
- Last name, or the offender’s last name and first name, or the offender’s last name and date of birth.
An SPN number identifies an inmate in the penal system. A person who wants to send an inmate packages or money must provide the inmate’s SPN number for the transaction to go through.
Other Records that May not Contain a Release Date
A record may not contain the inmate’s projected release date because a person can be held in a county jail while waiting for court. They may not have been sentenced yet. A jail can also hold an inmate to be transferred into the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a federal prison or the prison system of another state.
Requests by Telephone
A searcher can call the TDCJ in Huntsville between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to find out an inmate’s status and location. If the searcher does not know the inmate’s TDCJ or SID number, they must provide the inmate’s exact date of birth.
To reach the inmate parole review status line, before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has voted as to whether to release the inmate, the searcher should call 844-512-0461.
To reach the inmate parole review status line, after the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles has voted as to whether to release the inmate, the searcher should call the Parole Division status line in Austin at 512-406-5202. The searcher must have the inmate’s TDCJ or SID number, or their date of birth.
Requests by Email
The searcher may request the following information from TDCJ in an email about an inmate. The email should be specific about what they are requesting. They may ask for the inmate's:
- TDCJ number.
- Offense of conviction.
- Incarceration history, meaning the offense, county, and court of conviction of offenses for which the inmate was previously incarcerated.
- Current incarceration, meaning the offense, county and court of conviction.
- Projected release date.
The searcher must include the inmate’s name in the subject line of the email, and also include the inmate’s full name and TDCJ number in the email to email@example.com. If they do not know the TDCJ number, they should provide the exact date of birth.
If they do not know the date of birth, they should provide the inmate’s approximate age and county of conviction. There is no charge for this service. TDCJ will not provide photographs or Social Security numbers of inmates to the public.
Determining a Projected Release Date
A projected release date is determined by the offense date and the nature of the offense. An inmate who committed an offense before September 1, 1996, and who is by law eligible for mandatory supervision, will be released on their project release date if they are not paroled.
An inmate who committed an offense on September 1, 1996 or later, and who is by law eligible for mandatory supervision, will be released at the discretion of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Inmates who are not approved for release by the Board or who are not eligible for mandatory supervision have a projected release date that is the same as their discharge date.
Searching Past Records
How do you check if someone you know went to jail, or how do I find an old TDCJ inmate?
A searcher can do a name-based search of another person through the criminal history conviction name search of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). The searcher will need to create an account with their email to search the state’s database.
The fee for each search is $10. To search past records, an individual can access their own criminal record to learn more about their history. This service costs $10 per incident of access.
The conviction database is public record information extracted from DPS’s computerized criminal history system. The information in the system is only public if the court reported a conviction or deferred adjudication to DPS on an offense. The searcher may not be able to find a record of an arrest or incarceration if the offender was able to secure an expunction (expungement) of their arrest.
How do you locate a prisoner in the U.S.?
The searcher will need to know whether the offender is currently incarcerated and at what level, city or county, state or federal. The searcher can enter the offender’s name in lookup sites for different facilities to determine where the offender may be located.
If the searcher is a law enforcement officer or a prosecutor, they can search the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), the U.S.’s central database for tracking crime-related information.
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Inmate Information
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Inmates Not Under TDCJ Supervision
- Harris County Sheriff's Office: Online Public District & County Criminal Records Inquiry
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Crime Records Services FAQs
- Texas Department of Public Safety: Criminal History Conviction Name Search
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Requests by Telephone
- Texas Department of Criminal Justice: Requests by Email
- Texas State Historical Society: Prison System
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.