Whether or not jail records can be accessed by the public will vary widely by country. Within the United States, almost all jail records are considered public records and, as such, they must be accessible to the general public upon inquiry. Jail records may be located by an online search, telephone call, or an in-person request, depending on the jurisdiction.
Locating a jail record for a federal prisoner in the United States is relatively easy. All prisoner information is kept in one central database that is made available to the general public on the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) website. From the Inmate Locator page on the BOP's website, a search may be run using the inmate's identifying data, such as the register number or name. If searching by name, the first and last name must be used and only exact matches will be shown.
Jail records for inmates in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) within the United States may also be searched online. The Online Inmate and Detainee Locator System found on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website allows records to be searched for anyone in ICE custody. The most accurate search results are obtained by using the detainee's A-number and country of birth. The A-number is a number assigned to person when he or she is detained. A search may also be run using biographical information.
In the United States, inmate records for anyone who has been sentenced to a length of incarceration in a state prison are generally easily located as well. Each state has its own central repository for inmate records. Anyone in custody or who has been in custody within the state prison system should be located by an online search of the state Department of Corrections website.
Local jail records are typically more difficult to locate. First, it may take hours before the record of a person's arrest is input into the system. Second, not all local jails have searchable online databases. Finally, the information that does show may be incomplete and outdated by the time it is accessible.
Larger cities or county jails do frequently offer an online search option to locate inmate jail records. If that option exists, it will be found on the county sheriff's or local police agency's website. If an online search option is not available or if the information appears incomplete or outdated, a call or personal visit to the jail should produce the desired records.
Although almost all jail records are public information in the United States, certain exceptions apply. Juvenile records are not considered to be public records. In addition, certain information within an inmate's file may be kept from the public. For example, when and to where a federal prisoner is moved will not be made available for obvious safety reasons.