How To Find A Friend Who Was Arrested And Taken To Jail

I get tons of panicky, late-night, phone calls from friends asking how to find a friend or relative who was arrested.  They hear that a loved one was picked up by the police, but don’t know where he is or how to contact him.

You start to fear the worst.  What if he’s panicking?  What if he says or does something he shouldn’t?  You have to get him out.  Now!

You hit the internet and start making phone calls and…  You can’t find any answers!

If you’re like me, you’ve spent several frustrating hours browsing the web on confusing government websites, hitting error page after error page.  You make a hundred phone calls, and nobody answers.  You make a hundred more, and finally, you get lost in an automated voicemail system.

You can’t seem to get any information on where your friend is, how to get him out of jail, or even if you need a lawyer.  Why is it so difficult?

For two reasons:  The best source of information doesn’t care if you find your relative and get him out of jail quickly – or at all.  That source?  The government – which includes the city police department, the city jail, the county jail, the prosecutor’s office, and the court.  The government’s goal is to charge your friend with a crime and to get a court to punish him.  And along the way, the government may consider those pesky things they call constitutional rights…  The last thing the government cares about is your convenience.  The second best source of information – lawyers and bondsmen – are not 100% on your side.  They want your money.  That means that you can’t fully trust them either.

The first thing to do … FOCUS!  Don’t panic.  FOCUS on answers to three basic questions.  (1) Where is my friend?  (He may not be where you think.)  (2) How do I get him out?  Don’t spin your wheels.  Every minute you waste is an extra minute your friend sits in jail.  (3) Do I need a lawyer?  Now or later?  How do I find the right one?  How much should I pay?


A.  Start by using the government’s online locator system.  Instead of trying to place phone calls that nobody answers, first try the online system.  Make sure to use the right one.  There are lots out there.  But most belong to shady online companies which claim to be “free,” but aren’t.   The cheapest, best online system are put up by the counties themselves.   They don’t cost a dime.  They are updated frequently, so you have a decent shot at finding your friend if he’s actually there.  Note: There are several inmate locator system companies selling a product that you can get for free.  Do NOT pay money for them!

B. Check city jails.  Still can’t find him?  Guess what.  He may not be at at the county jail. Within each county, there are many city jails.  Your friend could be at any city jail within the county.  But which one?  That will depend on where he was arrested.  To find that out, try the following:

  • Speak to friends and family members to find out where your friend was arrested
  • If they’re not sure, ask them for the cross streets.
  • If that doesn’t work, find out what he was doing before the arrest.  Was he at a bar?  A party?  A shopping mall?
  • Did anyone see the police officer who arrested your friend?  Which city’s police department was he with?  Check that city’s jail.
  • Once you roughly know the location, go to Google Maps, type in “City, State.”  Eyeball the map to figure out where in the area he was picked up.   Write down a handful of city names.

C.  Contact the local police department.  Still can’t find him?  Contact the local police department.  Tell them that you’re trying to locate someone who you think was arrested.  Be vague.  Tell them you don’t know where he is, and that you’re really worried about him.  If your friend could have been injured, tell that to the police department.  It will hasten their search.  Ask if they can send out a dispatch for him.  Soon enough, the police officer who arrested him will get the message and finally, you’ll get some answers.

D.  If your friend or relative is an immigrant, he could have been picked up Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  First, call the local office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  You may get a voicemail message.  Leave a message, and pray they call you back.  Second, check the Online Detainee Locator System on the ICE website.  Go to, scroll to the bottom of the screen, and click on a link for “Detainee Locator.”  This will lead you to a page where you can type in your friend’s name and country of birth.  If your friend was arrested in the last few days, he probably will not show up in this system.

E. Wait patiently.  If you still have not found your friend, you should wait patiently and try not to panic.  Stay by your phone.  Chances are that you will get a phone call soon enough.  While you wait, read the rest of this book and learn about what to do after you locate your friend.


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