The Best Ways to Search for an Inmate

Here at Pigeonly, we’ve talked a lot about the many different options you have for keeping in touch with your incarcerated loved one, such as:

Of course, to be able to do any of these things, you first need to know exactly where your loved one is being held in the first place.

If you’ve been by their side since their legal troubles began, you likely know exactly where they ended up after conviction. However, if you and your loved one had been apart for some time, or hadn’t recently been in touch before they were sentenced, you might need to do some digging around in order to locate them.

Luckily, there are a number of tools available on the internet to help you discover where your loved one is incarcerated. Additionally, you can also use these resources to discover other pertinent information about your loved one, such as their prisoner ID number, their date of sentencing, and other info you’ll likely need in order to get in touch with them.

Four Easy Ways to Locate an Inmate

Before we begin discussing the various tools to help you locate your loved one, let’s quickly make clear that you’ll need to have some vital identifying information on hand in order to do so.

This information includes:

  • Your loved one’s full legal name (first, middle, and last)
  • Their date of birth
  • The state they’re being held in

Note that some tools may suggest or require additional information from you about your loved one, depending on individual circumstances. As we go through this list, we’ll make clear what this information is, and where it’s applicable.

Now, for the inmate location tools.


As part of our various delivery services, Pigeonly makes it easy for individuals to locate their incarcerated loved ones in the first place.

To use Pigeonly’s Prison Inmate Locator, you’ll first need to input your loved one’s first and last name:

The tool will then begin to search federal, state, and county databases for matching names:

To narrow down the search, our tool will ask you to provide your loved one’s Inmate ID Number, if you know it. If you don’t, that’s okay, too.

If you know where they’re being held (and are using the search tool to find additional contact information), you can input the name of their institution:

Again, if you don’t know where they’re being held, you can skip this question.

Finally, you’ll need to register an account with Pigeonly, and we’ll provide you with your loved one’s contact information. (Don’t worry, registration is completely free!)

(As a quick note, we used “John Smith” as our sample search term, and didn’t include any additional information. Obviously, this led to us being presented with a ton of results. So, like we said before, the more information you can provide about your incarcerated loved one, the more accurate your search results will be.)

Once you create an account, you’ll be able to choose which of Pigeonly’s services you wish to use before committing to a payment plan. After that, we’ll help you get in touch with your loved one in whichever way you choose.

The Bureau of Prisons’ Website

The Bureau of Prisons allows you to search its database of federal prisoners in order to locate your loved one, and to uncover their contact information.

Note that this database includes only inmates held in federal prisons – we’ll get to smaller prisons and jails in a moment. The BOP’s database also includes information regarding inmates who have been released, dating back to 1982.

When using the BOP’s search tool, you can search for a prisoner by name or by a variety of identification numbers.

First, let’s search for an inmate using their name:

Again, searching for a common name without any additional information leads to a large number of search results. Also, note that the search engine limits the number of results to 100 – meaning a bunch of other inmates with the name John Smith didn’t even show up. Obviously, it’s not likely that you’ll face this issue, but it’s definitely good to know.

At any rate, you can also narrow down your search by including your loved one’s race, age, and sex. As this search tool doesn’t offer any advanced search features, you may need to include this information in order to see less than 100 results.

You can also search for a federal inmate using a number of different identification numbers, such as:

  • BOP Register Number
  • DCDC Number
  • FBI Number
  • INS Number

Because these identification numbers, of course, belong solely to your loved one, using this method is the best way to generate accurate results from the BOP’s site.

State-Specific Government Sites

As we said, the BOP’s search tool only shows results for federal inmates.

To find an inmate who is being held in a local jail or a state prison, you’ll want to use the government website of the state in which your loved one is located. For a complete list of these sites, check out this resource list from

While we aren’t going to take you through the step-by-step process of finding an inmate in each state, let’s take a look at a few examples:

Here’s what you’ll need if your loved one is incarcerated in New York:

Notice that Department ID Number or New York State ID Number are meant to be used on their own. In other words, if you include either of these numbers, you don’t need to include the inmate’s name and birth year.

Similarly, to find an inmate in California, you’ll need to input either their full legal name, or their Inmate Number if you know it:

While most states provide the ability to search for an inmate on their official government website, others utilize a third-party search tool, which we’ll discuss in the next section.


VINELink is a search tool developed by VINE: Victim Information and Notification Everyday.

As mentioned above, VINELink partners with a number of states to make it easy to locate incarcerated individuals in local jails and state prisons. VINELink also works for states that do offer inmate search tools on their government websites, as well.

When getting started with VINELink, you’ll be presented with the following screen:

Notice that, while you can register for an account if you so choose, you can also continue as a guest for the time being.

You’ll next need to choose “I’m searching for an offender” from the drop-down menu on the following page:

(Note: VINELink’s main service is dedicated to helping victims “keep tabs” on the individual who victimized them – but it also allows individuals to search for their incarcerated loved ones, as well.)

Like with the other tools on this list, VINELink will then ask you to choose the state in which your loved one is incarcerated, then input either your loved one’s name or ID number:

Again, while VINELink is free to use and does not require registration, you may choose to do so in order to save your search history, which will allow you to easily bring up your loved one’s contact information whenever you may need it.

Wrapping Up

So, which tool should you use when searching for information regarding your incarcerated loved one?

Obviously, we’re a bit biased here – but at least we have good reason to be!

While the other tools on this list simply allow you to locate your loved one, Pigeonly takes the process a step further by making it easy to actually contact them (and send them certain items).

So, if you’re simply looking for information about your loved one’s current whereabouts, any of these tools will do the trick. If you’re looking to get in contact with your incarcerated loved one, we at Pigeonly are here for you.

Let us know what you think

Let us know what you think

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