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 relatively 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 he or she is 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. Generally, images that could be viewed as pornography are prohibited by corrections facilities, as are escape instructions and gambling materials like fantasy sports league literature.

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.

Basic Information for Family Members Visiting Loved Ones In Custody

If you're visiting a jailed loved one, be sure to arrive at the jail facility early. The wait lists to visit inmates can be long, and early arrival is the only way to ensure your day won't be entirely wasted.

Call or verify by email that your loved one is available, and that the visiting day you've chosen is valid and not blacked-out by a holiday or another sheriff-determined reason.

Upon arrival, be sure to have a valid driver's license, your loved one's inmate ID number, and be sure the car you arrive in has valid registration. Be prepared to leave your cell phone in your car, along with any metal objects and writing instruments. Basically, act as though you were going through TSA to board an airplane.

As with jail letters, bring a cashier's check or money order if you want to "put money on the books" for your loved one, so they can purchase necessary digestible food and toiletry items at the jail commissary. Extra money for phone cards will help your loved one as well. As you may have already discovered, collect calls from jail cost as much as 50 times as much as a normal collect call.
If you must relay sensitive information about your loved one's case, you're best off giving the information or documents to your loved one's attorney for their next attorney interview or attorney visit.

See FindLaw’s sections on Criminal Legal Help and Criminal Rights for more information.

Get Legal Help to Locate an Inmate

If you have a loved one in custody for a criminal charge, you know how frustrating and expensive it can be to communicate with them. If the Internet systems and databases don't have your loved one's information, locating him or her can mean hours on the phone with law enforcement. So, if you or a loved one is jailed, or is being investigated or charged with a crime, it's best to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and received personalized legal advice.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified criminal lawyer to make sure your rights are protected.

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