People in Jail

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The United States (U.S.) prison system involves a complex web of services the government provides to promote the rehabilitation and care of inmates and keep society safe. However, despite these government efforts, many still don’t clearly understand what’s happening behind bars.

How are the lives of inmates inside jails and prison facilities in the U.S.? How can you support inmates? What are the problems they face, and what are the solutions provided by the government?

This article will tackle a broad topic regarding the U.S. prison system, its inmate programs’ status, and how incarcerated people are treated behind bars.

This write-up will peer into the lives of inmates as they serve their sentences in different correctional facilities. You’ll have a look at the conditions they face, their problems, and the solutions the state provides.

You’ll learn more about inmate rehabilitation and recidivism reduction. Recidivism is the tendency of an incarcerated person to reoffend.

You can join this commitment to making society safer by understanding the prisoners’ situation behind bars and learning how you can help.

Understanding inmates’ lives can be your first step to making a change and supporting their rehabilitation. provides a comprehensive database of more than 7,000 prison facilities in the country. You’ll get contact information on U.S. jails and prisons and have access to inmate records. Start your journey of understanding the life of your loved one behind prison bars by navigating this website.


The U.S. jails and prisons hold almost two million people as of 2022. These incarcerated individuals are spread into prisons, jails, and detention centers. Here is a breakdown of the correctional facilities of the U.S. criminal justice system:

  • 1,566 state prisons
  • 102 federal prisons
  • 2,850 local jails
  • 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities
  • 186 immigration detention facilities
  • 82 Indian country jails

Also included are military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons located in U.S. territories.

Jails vs. Prisons: What’s the Difference?

Many use “jails” and “prisons” interchangeably, but there are differences between these two facilities.

A jail is a local facility run by local law enforcement agencies or the local municipality. People in jails are either awaiting trial or serving short sentences, usually for misdemeanors.

Meanwhile, prison is often a state or federal facility that holds inmates with serious crimes, usually felonies, with long sentences.

Jail and Inmate Information

As of 2020, the population in local jails is 549,100. Local jurisdictions do their best to provide the following programs for jailed inmates and assist them in their reentry into society:

  • In-custody programs and activities
  • Electronic home detention
  • Work in place of jail

What Is the Word for People in Jail?

People behind bars get called many names, but what is the legal term for a person currently detained in a local jail?

The legal term for people in jail is “inmate”. The term can refer to a person detained in jail or incarcerated in a prison facility. However, groups focusing on uplifting people behind bars prefer other terminologies besides “inmate”.

Alternate phrases that you can use to call people behind bars are the following:

  • A person convicted of a crime or felony
  • A person who is on parole
  • A person who is incarcerated
  • A person seeking or without lawful status
  • A person in immigration detention

Offense Categories May Not Mean What You Think

Here is an estimated breakdown of offenses of people in local jails:

  • Violent crimes
  • Robbery
  • Property-related crimes
  • Drug offenses
  • Public order offenses

The High Costs of Low-Level Offenses

Most people inside jails are not yet convicted for the crimes they’re charged with. Individuals in jail are often charged with non-criminal violations and misdemeanors. Because the state prefers incarceration, cities and counties pour public resources into punishing people with minor offenses instead of promoting means of rehabilitation.

Probation and Parole Violations and “Holds” Lead to Unnecessary Incarceration

Aside from people getting jail time for misdemeanors, jails are filling up with inmates due to parole and probation violations resulting in holds or detention. It’s an often overlooked problem, but the numbers show that 1 in 5 people in jail is there because of detainers.

Misdemeanors: Minor Offenses With Major Consequences

Misdemeanors are relatively minor offenses compared to felonies, but the consequences can be long-lasting. Defendants with misdemeanors will have those offenses included in their public records and, in some cases, indefinitely.

“Low-Level Fugitives” Fear Incarceration for Missed Court Dates and Unpaid Fines

Another cause for the increasing number of inmates handled by the U.S. criminal justice system is the jail time punishment for missed court dates and unpaid fines. Labeled as low-level fugitives, these people missed reporting to the court at an appointed schedule, resulting in jail time.

8 Myths About Mass Incarceration

Many people don’t fully understand the scope of work of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) and its policymakers as they manage a growing prison population.

Here is a list of eight myths that some people have about mass incarceration. Many institutions, like the Vera Institute of Justice, provided information to compile this list of myths about mass incarceration.

First Myth: A Private Prison Is the Corrupt Heart of Mass Incarceration

There is a growing myth that private prisons cause corruption in mass incarceration. However, a quick look into the numbers shows that private prisons only house 8% of the entire prison population.

Private prisons are correctional facilities run by third-party companies instead of the government.

Second Myth: Prisons Provide Slave Labor to Companies and Are “Factories Behind Fences”

Another myth about mass incarceration is that private prisons are factories that exploit inmates to profit through slave labor.

According to statistics, private companies only employed 1% of inmates through the PIECP (Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program). The numbers don’t support the idea that private organizations perpetrate mass incarceration in the country for free labor.

Third Myth: Releasing “Nonviolent Drug Offenders” Can End Mass Incarceration

Drug offenders comprise a considerable portion of the incarcerated population in the country’s jails. Statistics show that more than 400,000 people are in jail for drug offenses.

These statistics led some to believe that releasing nonviolent drug offenders will end mass incarceration. However, statistics show that only 1 out of 5 incarcerated individuals is locked up for a drug-related crime.

Fourth Myth: By Definition, “Violent Crime” Always Involves Physical Harm

The term “violent crimes” is often used interchangeably with “serious crimes” and is often linked to physical harm. However, the two terms are not entirely similar because there are serious crimes that are not essentially violent and don’t involve physical harm.

An example of these serious yet nonviolent felonies are the following:

  • Burglary and theft (property crimes)
  • Fraud and tax crimes (white-collar crimes)
  • Drug- and alcohol-related crimes
  • Gambling
  • Racketeering
  • Bribery
  • Prostitution

Fifth Myth: People in Prison for Sexual or Violent Crimes Are Dangerous to Be Released

There is an ongoing belief that people convicted of violent or sexual crimes have higher recidivism rates and should not be released.

However, the data doesn’t show concrete proof that people convicted of violent and sexual crimes are more likely to repeat their offenses. In contrast, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that sex offenders are less likely to be rearrested than other offenders.

Sixth Myth: Crime Victims Support Lengthy Prison Sentences

A study on this issue showed that most crime victims support shorter sentences with an emphasis on prevention and rehabilitation. The study also revealed that most victims prefer mental health and drug treatment, job training, and education.

Seventh Myth: People Need to Go to Jails or Prisons to Get Treatment and Services

Jails and prisons have services that help people with trouble with the law manage their disabilities, mental health, and addiction. However, people don’t need to get imprisoned to have these treatments.

Statistics show that two-thirds of jail inmates have substance use disorders yet do not get all the help they need from jails.

Research made by the American Public Health Association showed that only 11% of incarcerated individuals get rehabilitation treatment. The rest remain in prison without receiving treatment.

Eighth Myth: Expanding Community Supervision Is the Best Way to Reduce Incarceration

Community supervision, like probation and parole, is often considered a lenient alternative to incarceration. However, restrictive policies around these alternatives seem geared to make people fail. Typically these “alternatives” to prison time have multiple requirements, which are sometimes hard to complete due to electronic monitoring violations resulting in rearrests.

Recidivism: A Slippery Statistic

Recidivism is a relapse in behavior. However, simply using recidivism statistics to describe the mass incarceration situation in the county may lead people to draw differing conclusions.

One reason is that the authorities don’t receive reports of all criminal acts. The Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that almost half of violent crimes are not reported to the police.

Another reason recidivism rates may not be accurate is that law enforcement often focuses on high-crime areas. These areas include impoverished communities and communities of people of color.

Lessons From Smaller “Slices”: Youth, Immigration, and Involuntary Commitment

The other demographic of people inside jails include the youth, immigrants, and people with mental health problems in involuntary commitment.

Involuntary commitment is the detention of a person with mental illness against their will in a mental unit. Statistics on the number of people in these situations are sparse. Still, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) showed that in 2014, 591,402 were recorded as involuntary emergency detentions.

Statistics also show that at least 60,000 youths are imprisoned on any given day.

As of January 2023, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has detained more than 20,000 people.

Beyond the “Whole Pie”: Community Supervision, Poverty, Race, and Gender Disparities

The criminal justice system affects people inside its correctional facilities and those living outside its confining walls. People on parole or probation and even their loved ones and family members are affected by mass incarceration.

However, it’s a sad reality that other factors like poverty, race, and even gender affect the rise of incarceration rates in the country.

How Some European Prisons Are Based on Dignity Instead of Dehumanization

European jails and prisons focus on a principle called “normalization” that promotes “human dignity” by providing a positive life experience inside a prison. An example is Halden Prison, where the facility is well-lit, bright, and open.

Locate a Person in Prison Using Lookup Inmate has a vast database of more than 7,000 correctional facilities in the U.S. You just need the prison inmate’s name, sex, and date of birth. You can do your search per state or facility.

How Do I Find Out if Someone Is in Jail in the U.S.?

Every state has a database of its jail inmates, and it is public information. You can search this database to find someone in jail.

Visit and choose a facility to see who is detained in jail. You can quickly look up jails in states like Florida, Alabama, and New York and check their websites and links to prison or jail information.

How Do I Find Out if Someone Is in Local Jail?

You can start by searching for the name of a local jail in the search bar provided by After choosing the local or county jail, you’ll get information about the facility and a link that will direct you to a database of its detainees.

Visitor Guidelines and Information

Here are some visitor guidelines and information about visiting your loved one behind bars:

  • You should be on an approved visiting list
  • You’ll be subject to searches
  • You’ll need to register as a visitor
  • You’ll need to provide identification if you’re above 18 years old
  • Legal guardians or their parents must accompany minors
  • You’ll need to adhere to a dress code
  • You can’t bring contraband items, like controlled substances, alcohol, video and digital recording devices, and tobacco-related items
  • You can only bring prescribed medication that is life-saving or life-sustaining
  • You can’t bring money during a visit
  • You must adhere to other restrictions specific to the local jail or state prison you’re visiting

Communicate With People in Prison

You can talk with people behind bars through telephone, mail, and electronic communication. You only need to coordinate with the correctional facility and third-party vendors to create an inmate’s telephone or email account.

Send Money to People in Prison

You can send money to people in prison through an inmate account via money order, electronic fund transfer, and lockbox transfers.

Contraband or Social Media Infractions

Most states do not have laws that explicitly prohibit an inmate’s use of social media in prison. Still, all states prohibit an inmate’s use of cell phones inside a correctional facility.

Contraband, such as drugs, alcohol, and even devices that enable prisoners to communicate with the outside world, is prohibited and strictly monitored.

COVID-19 Visitation Information

Prisons in the U.S. adhere to the safety protocols imposed by the federal government concerning the acceptance of visitors during the pandemic. Contact visitation resumed in the early part of 2022 in many states. However, vaccination may be required for contact visitations.

What Happened to Prison and Jail Populations During the Pandemic?

During the early part of the pandemic, there was a considerable drop in the general population of the country’s prison system. However, now that prisons are slowly returning to normal operations, a rise in incarcerations has already been observed.

Prison Rape Elimination Act – PREA

There is zero tolerance in prisons for sexual assault and rape. Cases of sexual misconduct and sexual violence should be reported to the warden’s office. The PREA is enforced in every correctional facility in the U.S. to prevent rape behind bars.

PREA Audit Reports for Individual State Correctional Facilities

PREA audit reports help monitor the implementation of this federal law in a correctional facility. The reports hold facilities accountable for their compliance with the Prison Rape Elimination Act.


1. What agencies comprise the Department of Public Safety and Corrections?

The department consists of two main divisions: the corrections services, which oversees people inside correctional facilities, and community supervision, which manages inmates on parole or probation.

2. Why aren’t all people serving time in state facilities for state felonies?

One of the main reasons for inmate transfers to out-of-state prisons is overcrowding. However, the practice can hurt the connection between an inmate and their loved ones and families.

3. Does the U.S. Department of Public Safety and Corrections have rules for people in prison? How are those rules communicated to them?

People in prison have access to a rulebook that details the policies and regulations imposed in a correctional facility. Inmates must follow these rules, and families should understand the purpose of these regulations inside a correctional facility.

4. How does an inmate file a grievance about a particular issue?

The first thing to do is to report a grievance to a staff. If the grievance is not resolved, the inmate can raise it through the Administrative Remedy Procedure (ARP). People in prison can access the ARP in their facilities.

5. How can an inmate be transferred to another facility?

Prisoners can be transferred to another facility upon approval of the governor or the authorities at the prison headquarters. The reasons for transfer can be a valid inmate’s request, a change in the security category, or the security and safety of the inmate and the facility.

6. How can I obtain the release date of someone in prison?

You can contact the prison where an inmate is incarcerated. Many regard release dates as public information, which can be obtained through prison authorities.

7. What if inmates disagree with the time computation used to determine their release date?

An inmate can request a computation of their release date through the staff. If there’s disagreement, an inmate can go through the ARP and ask their family to contact the Office of Adult Service regarding an issue with the release date computation.

8. Can prisoners earn credits for participating in specific educational or rehabilitative programs?

The inmate can write to the program coordinator to ask about program credits. The issuance of program completion credits may take up to 90 days. Still, these credits are usually awarded after a few weeks.

9. How does an inmate sign up for educational and rehabilitative programs?

Inmates can sign up for educational and rehabilitation initiatives through program coordinators. Requests for eligibility should be made in writing.

10. How does an inmate get into the transitional work program, formerly known as work release?

In states like Louisiana, inmates can register to enroll in a transitional work program by writing to the records office of their facility.

11. What are the department’s procedures for people in prison to make phone calls?

During operational hours of the facility, inmates can call a list of numbers they’ve provided. Inbound calls are not allowed, so only inmates can call. Furthermore, families should set up phone accounts with approved network providers for their loved ones behind bars and pay for the cost of the call.

12. What are the rules when visiting people in prison?

You’ll need to locate an inmate, get approval on your visitation request, be prepared for the visit, and travel to the facility.

You’ll also need to adhere to the rules and regulations inside the facility you’re visiting.

Remember to avoid bringing any cash or contraband detailed by the prison authorities. Wear appropriate clothing when you visit.

13. What are the rules when visiting convicted sex offenders?

A person with a history of sex offenses, especially cases involving minors, can’t receive visitors that include a minor, even if they’re their children or step-children.

The warden will only approve people, including minors, visiting a convicted sex offender if a visitation request has been approved before the visit date.

14. How are disciplinary matters handled in relation to people in prison? What about their right to appeal?

Prisoners have limited freedom but full rights and protection as human beings. Inmates are informed of the rules and regulations they must adhere to while in prison. Any grievances about a disciplinary action can be course through an appeal during a disciplinary hearing.

15. Can inmates receive packages and mail (letters and publications) from family and friends?

Yes, inmates can receive packages bought through approved vendors listed by the Bureau of Prisons.

16. Can I send money to an inmate?

You can send money to an incarcerated loved one via money order, facility kiosks and lockboxes, and approved vendors that offer electronic money transfers to an inmate’s commissary account.

17. How can I access hearing schedules for the Board of Pardons and Parole?

You can find the hearing schedules for the Board of Pardons and Parole on the respective state’s websites. Some states offer ways to watch the hearings online.

18. How can I check an inmate’s medical or mental health?

You can check an inmate’s medical or mental health by visiting the state’s Department of Corrections website and requesting copies of medical records.

19. How can I report mistreatment or suspected abuse of an inmate?

When you suspect abuse and mistreatment of an inmate, you can call the PREA hotline at 1-833-362-7732.

20. How can I obtain demographic information on the U.S. prison population?

You can get demographic information on the U.S. prison population from the various departments overseeing the country’s criminal justice system. You can also consult the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Justice.

21. Does the Department allow the purchase of inmate records?

No. Most inmate records are public information accessed through agencies such as the National Archives and Records Administration and the Bureau of Prisons.

22. How do I apply to restore firearm rights?

The only way to restore firearm rights is to apply for a pardon with the restoration of firearm rights or civil rights restoration from the state’s governor.

23. How do I apply to restore voting rights?

Most states restore voting rights to inmates after the completion of their sentence.


1. General definitions
3. Supporting People in Prison & Their Families
4. Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)
5. Stay in touch

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