Every year, more than 10 million arrests are made in the US. So, if you’re concerned that someone you know might be in jail, you’re not alone. Finding these people, however, can be a tricky. It helps to know exactly where they might be. However, if you’re not sure where they are, it’s still possible. You’ll just have to do a little digging. The first thing to know is that jail records are public, so you’re not doing anything illegal by looking through them. But depending on what you’re trying to find out, that could be just one piece of the puzzle.

Start with Google

Once in a while, you might get lucky with Google and pull up a local newspaper article with a crime report. You might have to enter your search phrases a few different ways to turn up something, and if the person has a common name, you’ll have to sift through the results. Start with searches like “[name] [state] arrest.” For example, if you’re trying to find out if John Smith is in jail in Louisiana, you would enter “John Smith Louisiana arrest.” You can do this with several states if you’re not sure where he might be.

Search jail rosters

If you know exactly what county or city the person you’re trying to find is in, you can usually pull up the website for that particular jail and search the roster. These aren’t hard to find. Simply search online for the county jail roster. If you’re looking for someone you believe is in the Los Angeles area, for instance, you can search for Los Angeles County jail roster and come up with the exact link. These will usually include photos, so it’s easy to identify who you’re looking for. And they usually include a vague description of the charges.

To find people who are incarcerated in a federal prison, you can search the Federal Bureau of Prisons database. The online form will ask you to supply the name, race, age, and sex, or simply their inmate number. Of course, the latter is for people you already know are there and have already been given their information.

Call the jails

If you’re looking for a quick and straightforward way to get information, you can call the jail directly. Because inmate information is public record, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding out whether someone is there. When you call the facilities, you’ll probably only have to give a name, but keep in mind that there could be more than one person with that name there. Give as much information as you can to make sure you’ve got the right person.

Use a service

You can find someone in jail for free using most of the methods laid out here. However, they provide only a small piece of information. Many times, it’s better to pay a small fee to get a much bigger picture of what’s going on with the person. For example, if you’re doing a Tarrant County inmate search on someone, the free methods might turn up some vague results. But for a small fee, you can locate the person instantly, along with previous arrest records, address history, possible relatives, and known locations. This is often important information for someone you’re desperate to find, or someone who’s been harrassing you or causing you harm. Often when people are booked in county jail, they’re released within 24 hours. This means if you’re in a hurry to find them, you may be out of luck.