You’ve Been Arrested – What’s the County Jail Booking Process?

You’ve been arrested and you are sitting in the back of a police cruiser on your way to the jail. If this is your first time going to jail, you will be aware of two things: The adrenaline rush of fear of the unknown world you have always wondered about and the uncomfortable feel of the handcuffs clamped tightly around your wrists, pressing against the hard plastic seat of the back of the cruiser. There are a thousand thoughts racing around in your mind ranging from how you could be so stupid to allow this happen, to trying to remember your wife’s phone number so you can call her from a land line, your single call to freedom.

When you were at the scene and got arrested, you were told you had the right to remain silent. Those are your rights as a US citizen. Take your right seriously and do not talk to the police, ask or answer any questions. If you had a criminal defense lawyer, he would tell you the same thing. Keep in mind always that the police are asking questions, not to help you out, but to solidify their case against you. They want a confession and by speaking to them, you are giving them one. Keep in mind also that much of what you say and do will be on tape, both audio and video.

When you arrive at the jail booking area, you will be escorted in with your cuffs still on. Once you get in the building, they may or may not be released from your wrists, however most times the cuffs are taken off the moment you are searched and placed in a staging area. Again, do not say a thing without first speaking to your criminal defense lawyer.

In many jails the staging area is similar to a waiting room in a bus or train station; plastic chairs held together by metal frames, built in groups of 2 rows of chairs by 5 wide. Inmates who are violent or visibly intoxicated are usually placed in holding cells by themselves, while the majority of recent arrestees remain in a large, collective group.

Over the course of the next 5-36 hours, depending on the operation of the facility and the number of people waiting to be booked and released, you will stare into space, watch TV, sleep, eat and use the bathroom with a group of people you might never have spent a minute with outside of jail.

You will go through the following steps:

  • Complete Search of body, clothing, wallet and carry items.
  • Create list of personal property held by jail.
  • Detailed, personal interview with intake officer.
  • Mugshots and Fingerprints.
  • Medical Intake by a licensed nurse.
  • Strip search and clothing disbursement.
  • Shower and disinfectant.

While waiting for bail or to be escorted to your cell, do not discuss your case with anyone. Quite often they will use this time to get you to talk, promising a shorter stay in processing, early release, low bail, etc. You may even get in a conversation with a cellie or chair mate who will spill his soul about his crimes, prompting you to do the same.

Don’t do it! Do not say a thing until you speak to an attorney or get legal advice. Jails are filled with snitches, rats who are desperate to make a deal to get out. Don’t be stupid! Assume everyone in the jail is a rat and you will be safe.

Feel free to comment or as a question.

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writes about inmates, jails, prisons, courts and the lives of people who live and work within the United States Criminal Justice System. His mission can be summed up in a single word; transparency.