In criminal law, jail is imposed at sentencing for a municipal, county or state criminal offence. Generally speaking, county sheriffs are the caretakers of incarcerated people. Which means, if you want to know where a person served jail time, it's key to know within which county a person committed the crime or was incarcerated. In addition, there are some websites that provide incarceration records for selected regions.
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Locate the county. You need to know the county where the crime occurred. If you're not sure, ask a mutual friend or a family member of the subject. If you don't have such a contact, check the county jail in the county where the person resides or has resided. One way to find an address is to use a free people search engine, such as Pipl. Go to Pipl.com, enter the person's name (and city/state, if known), and press the "Search" button (contact information, including addresses, displays for "hits" on that name). Once you know the city, you can look up its county through a city to county converter (See Resources).
Contact the county sheriff's office. Some sheriff's offices have websites that let people search for past and current incarcerated persons. Otherwise, call the sheriff's office and request to speak to the jail or records clerk. Provide the person's full name, date of birth and inquire if that person is serving or has served jail time at that facility. Some jails do not release this information over the phone--if this is the case, request the policy for obtaining such information.
Check county court records. If a person was sentenced to jail for a crime, that information will be in that person's court records. Some counties have their court records online, in which case you can examine a summary of the person's criminal court records and see it contains a sentence to jail time. If these records aren't available online, go in person to the county courthouse and request the person's criminal files from the clerk in the records department. Unless the case involved sexual assault or a minor, criminal files are public record. There is frequently a retrieval and/or copying charge.
Check vinelink.com. Victim Information and Notification Everyday (VINE) database contains information about offenders as provided by correctional facilities across the United States. Because these facilities voluntarily supply this information, this service is better viewed as a supplemental resource in your search. Go to Vinelink.com, select the state where you believe the person might have been incarcerated, and follow the instructions.
Hire a private investigator. If you're having trouble finding incarceration records, or difficulty locating counties of residence for your subject, consider retaining a private investigator. Investigators have the experience and resources to quickly find such information. Contact your state professional private investigator association and ask for an investigator with experience in record retrieval.
Tips and warnings
- The National Association of Counties website (Naco.org) contains contact information for 2,000 counties throughout the U.S. (See References). To look up a specific county sheriff's office, go to Naco.org, and in the "About Counties" tab (in the top blue bar), select "Find a County," then click your state. On the page that displays, there are links to each county--click on the county you're searching. The results show the website link for that county (if any), the county courthouse contact information, and e-mail addresses for elected county officials, including the county sheriff.
- Whosarrested.com: This beta site contains arrests, inmate records and jails/detention facilities for Las Vegas and Clark County only.
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