Thanks to the Internet, you can find someone in jail without much trouble. If you know the name and birth date of the person arrested, and where he or she was arrested, you can discover with a few clicks not only where the person is being held but other information such as criminal charges and bail. (Just to be clear, a jail is a temporary facility where people are held pending a court action; a prison is for long-term punishment. This article addresses only jails.)
Whenever someone is arrested, she is taken to a county jail, typically operated by a sheriff's office, to be fingerprinted, photographed and formally charged -- a process called booking. If the sheriff's office is Internet-savvy -- and most are -- you can find a person's booking information online within hours. The National Victim Notification Network provides a free online service called VINELink for crime victims and others to check booking information around the clock. (VINE stands for Victim Information and Notification Everyday.) At least 37 states and the District of Columbia are contracted fully with this service; eight additional states are contracted to some degree. Some counties have no jail facilities at all, so their information won't appear on VINELink. Even so, this is a good place to start.
To search VINELink, you'll need to know at least the state where the person was arrested. Go to the home page and click on that state on the map. The next page takes you to a search page for that state. Along the left margin, you'll see a list of jail facilities that are offline for your search (they might not be contracted with VINE). Click on the blue button in the top-left box that says "Search & Register for Offenders." A search page will open. Select "All Facilities" to search all jail facilities online in that state, then scroll down the page and enter the person's last name and first name in the appropriate fields. After you click the "Search" button at the bottom, you should receive a list of all the jail facilities where a person with the name you entered is being held. By knowing the person's date of birth and the county where he was arrested, you can click on the proper person. If this search doesn't give you all the information you want, proceed to the next step.
If you're not having luck with VINELink--or if you want more information than it provides--you'll need to visit the webpage for the jail or for the sheriff's office operating the jail. Start with an online search engine like Google. If you know the county where the person was arrested--say, Alachua County--enter "Alachua County Sheriff's Office" into the search engine. The sheriff's office's webpage should provide a link to the jail. If you can't find the jail on the sheriff's office's webpage, the jail likely is operated by a county corrections department or similar entity; enter something like "Alachua County Jail" into the search engine to get to the proper page. The jail's webpage should have its own search engine to view records on current inmates by last and first names. If you don't know the county name but you know the state, search for "list of counties in Texas," for example, to find a resource with all the counties in that state. Then do a Google search for the jails one by one. Jail or sheriff's office websites generally also provide links with instructions for how to post bail for an inmate, how to write to an inmate and when to visit.
If you stumble upon a sheriff's office or county corrections department that doesn't have a search engine for its jail, you can still locate an inmate by phone. Find a phone number for the sheriff's office or the jail through an online search engine. Once you're on the phone with the jail, ask for booking or inmate information. Be prepared to provide the proper spelling of the person's last and first names as well as a date of birth.
VINELink allows users to register if they want to track a particular inmate--for instance, if you're a crime victim who wants to be notified when an offender is released. Follow the website's instructions to take advantage of this free service.