With over 130,000 individuals behind bars in the state of California, trying to find one specific person is an uphill battle. Even if you contact every private and public institution in the state, you may not come up with any answers. Fortunately, we’re experts at finding people, so we’ve learned some tips and tricks along the way. Here are our top suggestions for tackling a California inmate search.
7 Ways to Begin a California Inmate Search
California is a large state, both geographically and population wise. Boasting nearly 40 million permanent residents, there are too many potential prison facilities to narrow down one-by-one. Fortunately, the two main types of locations — state and federal prisons — both offer simple-to-use inmate search functions. Take a closer look at how to use each, below.
1. Search the California Department of Corrections
The majority of California inmates end up in a state correctional institution. Luckily, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) makes it easy to search their inmate population. To find an inmate, you’ll need to provide their inmate number or their last name. For common surnames, you can also restrict the search by adding their first and middle names into the designated boxes.
While some state DOC systems provide past and current records through their search engine, the CDCR only displays inmates who are currently housed at one of their sites. The tool also doesn’t provide the facility locations of minors. If you’re positive the person is in the state prison system, but the search function doesn’t provide results, you can contact the CDCR directly over the phone at (916) 445-6713.
2. Conduct a Federal Search
If the state system doesn’t hold any answers, then you should take your search to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The size and population of California are reflected in the amount of federal correctional institutions located in the state. There are 10 different detention facilities that house inmates, including:
- USP Atwater (High Security)
- FCI Dublin (Low Security)
- FCI Herlong (Medium Security)
- FCC Lompoc (Mixed)
- MDC Los Angeles (Administrative Security)
- FCI Mendota (Medium Security)
- MCC San Diego (Administrative Security)
- CI Taft (Private Institution)
- FCI Terminal Island (Low Security)
- FCC Victorville (Mixed)
Two of the locations — Lompoc and Victorville — are Federal Correctional Complexes (FCC), which means they offer multiple types of facilities with various levels of security. FCC Lompoc offers FCI Lompoc, which is a low security institution for males, and USP Lompoc, which is a medium security campus. FCC Victorville is home to three different institutions. The FCI Victorville Medium 1 houses medium security male offenders while the Victorville Medium 2 houses both males and females. The city also houses the USP Victorville, which is a high security penitentiary for men.
It’s impossible to accurately guess which location an inmate is housed in. Fortunately, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) keeps a country-wide database of inmates that are housed in federal prisons. To use their online inmate finder tool, you’ll need their inmate number or their name. The system allows you to search using four different types of numbers: BOP register number, DCDC number, FBI number, or INS number.
If you don’t know the person’s system-related number, you can simply enter their first and last name in the search bars. The tool also allows you to limit the search results by race, age, and gender. Utilize these enhanced search categories when looking for a California inmate with a common name.
3. Track an Inmate’s Location With California Court Records
The federal and state search tools aren’t always accurate, so when a search turns up no results, you should try to trace the inmate through their court records. The Judicial Council of California offers a database that allows you to search cases that have gone through or are set to go through the state’s Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, or Superior Courts. This service is one of the most helpful in the system because it allows you to search for cases in a variety of different ways. In fact, you can complete a search using:
- Case Number
- Party Name
- Attorney Name or Law Firm
- Case Caption
The availability of so many options is incredibly useful, especially if you only have a limited amount of information regarding the inmate.
If the court record doesn’t provide detailed information regarding location, you can retrieve more information using the inmate’s name or case number by submitting an information request through the California Department of Justice. Unfortunately, responses to such requests take time, and there’s no guarantee that the state’s Attorney General’s office will be able to provide any more information than what’s listed on the database.
4. Turn to California’s Vital Records
Official records are also useful when trying to track down an inmate. Vital records are official documents relating to identifying personal information, such as birth and death certificates as well as marriage licenses and divorce decrees. Birth certificates will help you determine a person’s legal name at birth while a marriage license will provide their married name. If a divorce has taken place, you’ll also want to know during your inmate search, because the event is likely to result in another name change.
In California, you can request two types of birth records: authorized and informational. You’re only allowed to request an authorized version if it’s your or your child’s birth certificate. To obtain an informational copy, you’ll need to complete an official request with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). The process requires that you fill out the official application and send the request to the agency with a check or money order for the copy fee, which will run you about $25.
The CDPH also provides copies of marriage certificates and divorce decrees for a fee, but they don’t offer a state-wide online database. If you don’t want to pay the $15 for an informational marriage record, you can contact the County Recorder office at the location where the marriage was officiated. Unfortunately, if you don’t know any location-based information, it’s extremely challenging to locate it on your own.
5. Search California Public Records
Searching through public records is another proven way to find out more about a person, which is helpful when taking on a California inmate search. The term “public record” refers to a long list of publicly available information, including:
- Vital Records
- Court Records
- Property Records
- Voter Registration
- Census Information
Each of these styles of documents can hold the key to the information you need to complete a thorough inmate search. One of the most helpful pieces of information is census records because they can identify legal names, parents’ names, and spouses’ or ex-spouses’ names. Unfortunately, the census only takes place every 10 years, so any changes, like new marriages, would change the inmate’s identifiable information.
With millions of records to peruse, trying to track down every document that you need is exhausting. Luckily, there are online services, like
6. California County Records
Just because someone is given a prison sentence doesn’t mean they actually end up going to state or federal prison. In fact, many California defendants end up serving their time in a county jail. This situation usually occurs when the inmate is given a fairly short sentence, usually under 18 years. The crime in question is also a determining factor when the judge chooses their placement.
If the inmate ended up in a county jail, then they won’t show up during your search of the state and federal prison system. Unfortunately, California doesn’t offer a database that incorporates inmates across all counties. As a result, you’ll need to review each county inmate roster on its own. Many of the locations list their current roster on their websites, including:
- Ada County
- Alameda County
- Calaveras County
- Humboldt County
- Los Angeles County
- Mariposa County
- Orange County
- Shasta County
It’s best to start in counties where the inmate previously lived before moving your search to locations that are further away in the state. If one of the potential county jails doesn’t offer an online database, you can call the location directly to verify if the person is housed there or not. As with the website searches, you’ll need to know basic information, like their legal name.
7. Find California Inmates With
Hunting down useable information on your own is time-consuming, but through CheckThem.com you can gain access to millions of records at a moment’s notice. Our easy-to-use search function pulls data from public databases all over the country, making it easy for you to find the information you need for your California inmate search. Skip the hassle of do-it-yourself searches with our convenient background check services.