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Locate an Inmate

If someone close to you has gone to prison, keeping in touch can be a challenge. Inmates are often transferred away from their original facility and each prison has slightly different rules regarding how and when its inmates can be contacted. This article provides information to help you overcome these obstacles.

First, Locate Your Inmate

Before the Internet, locating an inmate could take weeks. You would often have to call different prisons across the country until you found your inmate. Now, both the federal and state systems offer tools to help you find an inmate quickly and easily. The federal inmate locator allows you to search all the federal prisons by entering an inmate’s name. Each state has its own inmate locator as well. While there may be some differences, most of the state locators work in a very similar fashion to the federal inmate locator.

Most search engines will tell you the prison in which the inmate is located, the contact information for the prison, and the inmate’s ID number. Once you find your inmate, be sure to save his or her ID number. Since the ID numbers are how most prisons identify their inmates, including the number in your correspondence will help your letters reach the correct person.

Next, Contact Your Inmate

The easiest and most reliable way to contact your inmate while she’s in prison is to mail letters. Prisoners receive mail regularly, and usually have access to pens, paper, and envelopes to send their own correspondence. Be sure to put the inmate’s ID number on the outside of the envelope, so that the letter doesn’t get lost within the prison. Some prisons require their inmates to open all mail in the presence of a guard to ensure the mail doesn’t contain any drugs or weapons. In other prisons, the staff may even read the mail prisoners receive, so it’s best to avoid including any sensitive information in your letters. Check with the prison to find out what you’re allowed to send inmates.

Each prison’s visiting and telephone policies are slightly different. Some prisons allow conjugal visits, while others only allow telephone contact. Sometimes, only attorneys are allowed to visit inmates. Contact the prison to find out what its visitation policy entails.

See FindLaw’s sections on criminal legal help and criminal rights for more information.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified criminal lawyer to make sure
your rights are protected.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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