When Your Online Search Doesn’t Find Your Inmate

Many jails have online databases listing those who have been arrested. In some cases, the database is updated every few minutes. If you do a search but nothing comes up, it doesn’t necessarily mean your loved one is not incarcerated. There are several reasons an inmate can be in jail but not showing up in the database.

You’re Entering the Wrong Name

Even if you have known your loved one as David Smith for years, it might not be his legal name. Many people use their middle name for their entire lives and only when it comes to legal issues, such as an arrest, are they forced to use their birth name. For example, if you are searching for David Smith and his driver’s license actually says Aaron D. Smith, your search will not locate him.

Solution: Try typing in only the last name if the database allows it. You can then begin checking all of the Smiths that were arrested in the same time frame and see if any of them have a middle initial D, then match up birthdates. Some jails include mugshots with the information, which will make it even easier.

Video: How to do an inmate search

Slow Processing

If your loved one was recently arrested, he or she may not be in the system yet. The larger jails in the country can take several days to process a new inmate and get them assigned to housing.

Solution: Call the jail and speak to booking to find out if your loved one is in the middle of processing.

Temporarily Out of Jail

Inmates leave the jail for various reasons. If your inmate was furloughed out for a doctor appointment, a dentist appointment, or to go to court, the database will sometimes not show him or her as incarcerated during that time. Once he/she is brought back to jail, the database will display as active again. This gets a little sticky for loved ones who want to locate an, inmate because staff is not supposed to tell you where the inmate went. In most cases, all you will get is a “That person is not currently in custody” speech.

Solution: If you suspect a doctor or dentist appointment, wait a few hours and do the search again.

Search here for any inmate in the country

Final thoughts: There is something reassuring about typing in a name and knowing where your loved one is, even if the location is a jail. If your search turns up nothing, try calling the jail and speak to booking. In many cases, they will let you know if your loved one is there being processed or not.

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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.