Upon entry into the Federal Bureau of Prisons, each prisoner is assigned a unique inmate number (sometimes also called an inmate ID number, a DOC number, prisoner ID number, a BOP federal number, or a prison number.) This number is used for accountability, tracking, and DOC inmate search purposes. Inmate identification numbers are also used for adding money to an inmate’s commissary account, sending them mail, and when applying to visit an incarcerated loved one in prison.
Zoukis Consulting Group regularly receives questions about inmate identification numbers. Below, you will find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions, including more information about inmate identification numbers. This page also discusses how inmate register number codes are assigned as well as how to locate and verify identification numbers for incarcerated loved ones.
DOC Inmate Identification Numbers
Prisoner ID numbers are similar in some respects to Social Security numbers, as each number is assigned to just one person. Inmate ID numbers are unique to each inmate, which can help avoid mix-ups when two inmates share the same name. Once assigned, the number will be printed on each inmate’s individual prison identification card, as well as on paperwork related to his or her incarceration.
Obtaining an Inmate ID Number
Inmate identification numbers may be assigned by prison staff, by the court at sentencing for some state departments of corrections, or by the U.S. Marshals Service. This means that convicted persons preparing to enter prison do not need to register for or otherwise obtain a prison ID, as one will be assigned to them automatically.
Examples of Inmate ID Numbers
Different prison systems use different numbering conventions for assigning ID numbers to inmates. These numbers may be numerical but may also include letters.
Federal Inmate ID
Inmates in the federal prison system have eight-digit federal registration numbers assigned by the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
These identifiers consist of five numbers specific to the inmate and three numbers identifying the federal sentencing court, following a standardized format of xxxx-0xx. If a BOP register number is 12345-058, the first five numbers are unique to the inmate and the last three numbers identify the court district where the inmate was arrested and processed into the federal correctional system. Note that the inmate will use the entire eight digits, not just the first five numbers.
State Inmate ID
In contrast to the federal numbering system, every state uses its own numbering convention, which may use both letters and numbers. For example, state prison inmates in North Carolina have unique seven-digit numbers, whereas inmates in California have six alpha-numeric characters.
Find an Inmate ID Number
It can sometimes be challenging to find inmate ID numbers for incarcerated loved ones.
The most direct way is to ask the incarcerated person what their number is, as they should have received an identification card including their unique number. When you receive a letter from someone who is in prison, the inmate’s number should also be written on the outside of the envelope.
In cases where a loved one has just been incarcerated and hasn’t had a chance to write to you yet, there are other ways to find the prison ID number.
Go to the prison system’s inmate lookup page online and enter your loved one’s full legal first and last names. In most cases, these online tools are easy to use and are free of charge.
- Department of Corrections inmate search: If your loved one is in federal prison, you can locate his or her number using the Bureau of Prisons’ Inmate Locator Tool. You can search for a prisoner’s first, middle, and last names, although you do not need to know the middle name to use the tool. This service can also be used to enter an inmate identification number to look up someone’s identity. This federal lookup tool, which is updated daily, includes information beyond inmates’ names and prisoner ID numbers, providing details about their age, race, sex, location where incarcerated, and anticipated release date. You can filter the search results based on this information, if searching by name returns too many results.
- State inmate search: Most state prison systems now provide online inmate ID number searches. You can learn more by visiting our Inmate Search page, which includes links to individual states’ prisoner locator pages. These tools are typically similar to the federal prisoner search system. You can look up prisoners by their first and last names. In some cases, state search functionality allows you to find an inmate ID number using a partial name rather than a full, legal name. You may also be able to search based on the city or county where your loved one was convicted, his or her birth year, pre-trial address, and more.
Locating Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmates by Number
As mentioned above, each federal prison inmate’s unique identification number includes a suffix for the specific U.S. Marshal’s Service (USMS) district, or the sentencing court district, where the inmate’s case was processed. Knowing this suffix can be helpful if you need to look up an identification number for an incarcerated loved one.
As discussed earlier, the Federal Bureau of Prison’s website includes online search functionality that you can use to look up a federal inmate’s unique BOP register number.
The federal judicial district/USMS district numbers all begin with zero. However, in some cases, inmates’ register numbers include a three-digit suffix that starts with something other than a zero (380, 480, or 509, for example.) In this case, the last two digits identify the court district, but the first number is unique to the individual inmate.
Finding Jail Detainee Numbers
The information provided above is designed to help people locate the prisoner identification numbers for loved ones who have already been sentenced and are serving time in federal or state prisons. Sometimes, people need to locate loved ones who are in a county jail or who are otherwise not yet in prison custody. Contact Zoukis Consulting Group if you are in this situation, so we can assist you.
Finding criminal defendants before they have been sentenced can be more challenging than finding sentenced prisoners. This is because every county jail has its own identification and location system. Many county jails now offer online search functionality for locating detainees. However, in some cases, people are not certain where their loved one is being held, so it is necessary to identify nearby county jails so you can contact them by phone or use their website to search for a detainee.
In most cases, local county jails do not assign Department of Corrections numbers. This means a specific number is not required when corresponding with a detainee or sending money. However, always contact the jail before trying to add money to your loved one’s account or sending them mail, to confirm you do not need to include an identification number.
Still Have Questions? We Can Help
Whether your loved one has been detained in a county jail or is in a federal or state prison, knowing how to identify and locate him or her in the sysrem can provide much needed peace of mind. If you need assistance using the inmate locator tools described above, we can help. Contact Zoukis Consulting Group for assistance today.
Published Jun 2, 2017 by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA | Last Updated by Christopher Zoukis, JD, MBA on Feb 3, 2023 at 12:25 pm