How to Find Out if Someone is in Jail or Prison FREE: Step by Step Guide

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Criminal Records | April 26, 2024

Man in a yellow shirt on the right looking at a jail cell outside of a prison with a criminal in a blue jump suit behind bars, wondering how to find out if someone is in jail.

Find Out If Someone Is In Jail: Search Now
Enter anyone's name and state to find out if they are in jail or prison and view their full criminal record and arrests.

There are many reasons why someone would want to learn how to find out if someone is in jail. But, whether it’s for personal reasons or simply out of curiosity, knowing how to accomplish it for free, using this step-by-step guide can make the process even easier.

There are several different things that you will need to know before starting your search, with the most important thing being the person’s name. Jail searches will only work if you know who you are searching for, which makes sense. Armed with their name, you will be able to get started searching for more information. If you don’t have the person’s full name but do have a phone number to use, you can learn how to use someone’s phone number to find a name for free.

Where to Search for an Inmate: Easy Step-By-Step Guide

Before you get started on learning how to find out if someone is in jail, you will want to know whether they are in jail or prison. You will also need to know if the crime has put them in state or federal lockup. The searches for each will be different.

Jail is reserved for prisoners who have just been arrested (but have not been convicted of a crime, they are only suspected of committing an alleged crime), or who have been sentenced to less than one year of time. Individuals in prison have been convicted and received sentences over one year.

The difference between state and federal prison lies in the type of crime the person you are searching for, committed. A state crime is one that was committed against the laws of the state and tried in a state court. A federal crime is one that violated federal laws of the United States and is tried in a federal court. Examples of state crimes include driving under the influence (DUI), an assault, or even manslaughter. Examples of federal crimes include a kidnapping that takes the victim across state lines or federal tax fraud.

The following guides provide steps for how to find out if someone is in jail, both federal and state, using free options. However, it’s important to remember that these methods can take time. If you don’t have that time to spare, many background check providers can perform inmate searches swiftly and efficiently.

5 Steps to Find State Jails Info (How to Track Down Somebody in Jail Using VINE)

If you are looking to find out if someone you know is in a state jail (like South Carolina South Dakota or Maryland), there are a couple of different ways to do this. One of the easiest options involves the use of VINE, a victim notification website that records inmate records in 48 states. This website is free to use and reports information about who is in custody.1

Step 1. Navigate to the VINE website.

The first step to using VINE to learn how to find out if someone is in prison is navigating to their website.

Step 2. Choose the state you want to search.

Once on the website, you will be prompted to enter the state where you want to search. All states are available to search, but some states are using a classic version of VINE (noted by a blue dot beside the name). Depending on the version, you will be prompted to enter different information.

Step 3. Enter the person’s name, or prisoner number. (Classic VINE)

If the state is using the classic VINE, your screen will provide you an option to enter the person’s name or prisoner number. After you input either of these pieces of information, you will see the available results.

Step 4. Search for Someone. (Updated searches)

If the state you have chosen is using the latest version of VINE (like North Carolina, North Dakota, and Alaska), you will be taken to a screen that will have a few different options. In order to look up prisoner information, you will want to select the option that says “Search for Someone”. After clicking this, you will be taken to a screen that will prompt you to enter what type of search you want to complete.

Make sure that the option for “An offender/defendant” is selected and the correct state option is shown. The last information option will ask how you want to search for the person. You can choose between entering a name, ID number, or case number.

Step 5. Get results.

After you input the information and click search, your results will return.

If you find information on the person you are searching for, you will have the option to get notifications about their status. This is especially helpful if you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your family. When signing up for notifications, you have the option to receive a phone call or other communication when the prisoner is released.

Alternate Step: Visit the Department of Corrections state website.

You can also visit the website for the state in which you believe the person may be incarcerated.2 The Department of Corrections often offers an online search tool that will help you find someone in jail. Visit the website for the jail or prison you are searching in order to track down the correct database search tool.

VINE search tool website screenshot, with yellow arrow pointing to the state search feature.

Search Federal Prison Information Free

If you need to find out if someone is in a federal prison, you will need to search the Bureau of Federal Prisons website. When you navigate to the site, you will be prompted to enter the name of the person you are searching for. You will be required to enter a first name and a last name to complete your search. If any information is found, it will be returned at the bottom of the page.

The Bureau of Federal Prisons website will give you the following information about an inmate:

  • Name
  • Registration Number
  • Age
  • Race
  • Sex
  • Release Date (If Available/Applicable)

Information on inmates in Federal Prison is kept up to date regularly, so any information found should be accurate, but users will need to contact the arresting agency to learn how to uncover the arrest details of someone. If you have concerns about the information you find or feel as if it may be incorrect, you can contact the Bureau of Federal Prisons directly.

If you don’t find any information about the person you are searching for, there is a chance that they are not currently incarcerated, or the records have not been updated. If you can’t find jail info during the process of learning how to find out if someone is in jail, you can complete different searches to learn more about the person. One of the popular searches is a level one or name based background check. This is one of the only background checks that can be run without a fingerprint. You can learn more about what details appear on a background check to see if this will satisfy your curiosity, or you could contact a trusted criminal history search provider for more options.

How Do You Contact Someone in Jail? (Phone, Mail, and Complaints)

If in the process of learning how to find out if someone is in jail, you discover that your loved one is currently incarcerated, you may want to contact them. All state governments state that prisoners have rights to contact their friends and families. Contact is usually done by phone or letter. The behavior of the inmate can dictate whether or not they are eligible for certain types of contact. In order to get in touch with an inmate, you will need to be added to a list created by the inmate. This is true for all phone calls.

Mailing a Package or Letter to an Inmate

If you aren’t able to visit in person, you have the option of mailing a package or letter to someone who is in prison. You will need the address of the jail or prison before sending anything. You will also need to know the person’s inmate ID number so that it gets directed to them properly. Most state prisons also require that you include a complete return address on the envelope so they know where the items are coming from and who’s sending them. The law about what items can and can’t be sent to prisoners will usually depend on what state or county the prison is in, but most prisons allow you to send an article of clothing.5 You should check the rules before sending any items to prevent things from getting confiscated. You are able to send legal documents to a prisoner, as long as the items are properly labeled.

Calling Someone in Prison

Telephones are available to everyone who is currently incarcerated in prison or jail. Incoming calls, however, are not accepted. The only way to have a phone call with someone in jail is to have them contact you directly. All phone calls are monitored and recorded and kept in the jail or prison’s records. It’s important to know that these phone calls can be used as evidence in a case, and aren’t considered private. In order to have an inmate call you, most states require that you be on their call list.2 The call list is set up when they were booked into jail. If you are missing from the call list, you can ask the inmate to add you by sending them a letter and including your phone number. Once you’re on the call list, the inmate will be able to call you during phone hours.

Complaints About the Prison Phone System

For those in jails across the United States, staying in touch with their families and loved ones is important, yet with this in mind, it is important to know that there have been complaints consumer complaints about the phone systems used in the prison system. Prisoners don’t have the option of choosing their phone provider, which often ends up with them having very expensive phone bills. The inmate is often forced to pay whatever the phone provider charges, causing financial trouble and leading to an inmate who issues complaints complaints. In response to these government consumer complaints, the Federal Communications Commission has created a telephone service for anyone who is incarcerated. This service limits the rates that prisoners can be charged for things like taxes and long distance calls. For incarcerated people or their families who believe that they have been overcharged, they can file a complaint using the consumer complaints consumer form or contacting the government or FCC directly.3

How Do You Visit a Person in Custody?

If a family member or loved one is currently incarcerated, you may have the option to visit them in person. Most prisons will allow visitors if the inmate is in good standing and doesn’t have any behavioral or disciplinary actions currently active. Most jails and prisons have set visiting hours, so you will need to visit during those times. You will also need to be on the inmate’s visitor list before visiting. If you aren’t sure if you are on the visitor’s list, you can contact the jail. Inmates have the option to modify their visitor’s list at any time, so if you aren’t currently on the list you can ask them to put you on it. During the visit, you will only be allowed to have limited physical contact. Most places will allow you to briefly hug at the start of the visit, but limit any other physical touch after that.4 If you are married to an inmate who is located in South Carolina, New York, California, Mississippi, or Minnesota, you may be able to schedule a conjugal visit. Conjugal visits allow for physical touch between spouses.

For many people, visiting an inmate means traveling and staying in hotels. There are many hotels and temporary housing that cater to prison visitors. If you find that you are mistreated while staying at a hotel near a prison, you have the right to file a complaint using a complaints travel complaints form on the website.

How Do You Know if a Person Has Been Released from Custody?

If you are concerned about knowing when someone incarcerated is going to be released, there are several options available to you. One of the most popular options is signing up for a notification on the VINE website. VINE is a victim notification service that will allow you to sign up for notifications when a change in an inmate’s status is reported. You will need to search for the inmate to find their information before signing up to learn when they will be released.

You can also contact the Department of Corrections in the state where the criminal is being held. Staff members may be able to give you further information regarding the tentative release date of the incarcerated person. Alternatively, you can also search through the Department of Corrections database. These databases often list the pending release date for each criminal. You should keep in mind that release dates are considered to be tentative and can change depending on the behavior of the criminal.

Depending on the publicity of the case or offender, you may also be able to do a quick online search to learn more about a release date. If the case has been popular in the public eye, it may be possible to track down press releases regarding the length of the person’s sentence and tentative release date.

Whether you are searching for information about a family member or looking to protect yourself from a criminal, there are many ways to learn about someone’s custody status. Online tools such as VINE make it simple to search each state for incarceration history and release date information. You also have the ability to contact the local jail or prison to learn if someone is in custody. If the person is in a federal prison, you can also search the Federal Bureau of Prison’s database to learn more.

Once you find the information you are looking for, you can keep yourself notified to learn when the person is released. VINE offers an easy notification system that will help you find out when or if someone is being released. You can also complete a quick internet search to learn more about release dates for high-profile criminals. If you can’t find information on the person you are looking for, you can still learn more about them by running a background check (learn more about background check types).

If the person in question is a loved one, you will have the opportunity to communicate with them. Whether you choose to visit, have a phone call, or send a letter, there are options available to keep you connected. While every type of communication requires the inmate to add you to a list, you can be added at any time.

Knowing how to find out if someone is in jail using free options can be a benefit, because it can provide peace of mind for both victims and family members.


1VINE, n.d., VineLINK State Search. 9 Nov 2021. Web. <>

2The Law Dictionary. N.d.. Best Way to Find Someone in Jail for Free. 8 Nov 2021. Web. <>

3Federal Communications Commission. N.d. Telephone Service for Incarcerated Individuals. 8 Nov 2021. Web. <>

4Prison Insight. N.d. Can You Kiss During Prison Visits? 8 Nov 2021. Web. <>

5Shipping School. N.d. How to Ship to Federal Prisons in the United States. 8 Nov 2021. Web. <>

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