How to search for someone in prison

Updated April 17, 2017

Finding someone in prison is not as difficult as it may seem. The Freedom of Information Act means that prison records are open for the public to view at any time. To make it even easier, there are several databases accessible in a variety of ways to help you track down someone behind bars.

Determine whether the person you are looking for is in a county jail, a state prison or in a federal prison. While having this information is not absolutely critical, it will save you a lot of time and make your search much easier. You should also know what state the person was incarcerated in for the easiest search.

Begin your search on the Internet (see Resources). This is probably the easiest way to locate a prisoner.

Write to the Federal Bureau of Prisons and request the information. Do this via postal mail or though e-mail (the email and street address are listed on the website, see Resources).

Consider searching a prisoner message board, if you are unable to locate the person by using the above search methods. These message boards have places where you can post about finding a specific prisoner. Many of these boards charge a fee, but your chances of success are good if someone recognises the name you are looking for.

Use a search site that costs money if it is possible that the person you are searching for has been paroled or released. Many of these search sites offer a money-back guarantee and they can almost always help you locate the person you are looking for.


If you do not have the correct spelling or are not sure how to spell the person's name, try searching for the name a few different ways. For instance, Johnston versus Johnson. As a last resort, hire a private investigator. PIs find people for a living and have access to many more resources than the average person.


Doublecheck any website you use to search for prisoners. Some of these websites charge a fee and this information should be free. All of the resources listed are FREE resources. Many websites try to find you pen pals or some other way to communicate with prisoners. Be careful about giving your information to these sites.

Things You'll Need

  • A computer
  • A telephone
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About the Author

Stacie Haight Connerty has been writing and editing for almost twenty years. She has been nationally published in several magazines and currently writes for several parenting websites. Stacie has an MBA in marketing and has worked in marketing/public relations for 15 years.