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The California State Prison System

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is responsible for the incarceration and parole system for state offenders in California. The prison system of the state uses a holistic approach in ensuring restorative and rehabilitative justice to persons incarcerated within the facilities. It is an extensive network of supervision and information across all state prison locations in the state.

What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison in California?

Although they are used interchangeably in everyday language, the fundamental difference between a jail and a prison is that a jail holds accused persons awaiting trial or persons with short sentences (less than two years) at the county level. Prisons, on the other hand, hold state convicts and for longer sentences than two years. In other words, a jail holds persons charged to court and are not given the option of bail, while prison is a post-conviction incarceration facility. Also, note that county governments oversee jails.

How Many Prisons are in California?

The California prison system is organized into 34 adult and four juvenile correctional facilities. At the Adult Corrections Division, there are separate facilities for men and women. They are also organized into rehabilitation centers, or medium to maximum security prisons.

Rehabilitation facilities for women are three:

There are ten rehabilitation facilities for men:

There are ten high-security facilities for violent male offenders across the state:

The remaining ten listed below double as correctional institutions and reception centers for incoming inmates:

The Division of Juvenile Justice manages four youth correctional facilities, three of which are for males only:

How do I search for an Inmate in California State Prison?

All inmates in California are registered into a central database that makes it possible to locate which facility they are being held. If the name of the facility is known, use the facility locator tab at the CDCR Website. Users can search for a facility by type, or use the interactive map to get the address of interest. If the facility is not known, use the Inmate Locator Page to get the facility location. There are two ways to search for an inmate here. The first is to use the CDCR number: the registration number given to the inmate at the point of admission into the facility. This method is more accurate and returns only one result. If the CDCR number is not known, then users should enter the full names of the inmate. Ensure the last name is accurate. The page usually returns a list of persons bearing the last name; therefore, it is important to include first and middle names to narrow the search. A limitation of this method is that the search returns the list of inmates with identical names within the same facility. If the date of admission into the prison is known, it will help identify the inmate of interest.

Persons seeking to visit an inmate under the CDCR must schedule an appointment through the Visitor Processing Scheduling System (VPASS). New Users must register to create an account, after which they can log in and schedule an appointment. On the day of the planned visit, confirm that the institution accepts visitors by checking the visiting status. For assistance, contact the Visiting Department at the facility between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Use the Visiting Officer Phone List to look up the phone number of interest. If preferred, send an email, giving the details of the facility address and inmate's CDCR number.

Visiting an inmate comes with strict guidelines. Some of them include having a valid and current form of identification and presenting notarized consent to bring minors along. Read the Guide on Visits to Adult Prisons before proceeding. For juvenile visits, read the Guide on Visits to Juvenile Facilities. For more information, go through the Operating Manual. A violation of any of the guidelines will lead to a band from future visits.

Are Incarceration Records Public in California?

Also known as inmate information, incarceration records are a part of criminal history in California. Records of criminal history summaries are maintained by the Department of Justice in the state. The state laws only permit officially recognized law enforcement establishments and authorized applicant agencies to access these records. Outside this category, only the person named in the record can request a copy of his or her criminal history. Third-party requests are rejected. However, victims of crimes with respect to the inmate have access to the incarceration records (upon request) as part of the protection and support services provided by CDCR.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How to Look Up Jail Records in California?

The county Sheriff's Departments or City Police Departments usually manage jails in California. Jail records are maintained on a county basis across the state. Hence persons seeking to lookup jail records should visit the relevant law enforcement agency in the county or city to make inquiries. Jail records may also be available online at the law enforcement page of the county or city website. In most cases, the name of the inmate, the cell number, and the charges are usually returned with online searches. The same rule applies to local arrests. Interested can walk into the law enforcement agency office to request to view arrest records. However, local criminal history summaries are not available to third parties. Some counties generate summarized reports, while some do not. All criminal history information is usually forwarded to the State Department of Justice for entry into the central repository. Persons who wish to obtain their own comprehensive criminal history record should send requests to the State Department of Justice. Requests may be name based, or fingerprint-based. Follow the instructions on the Department's Website. Fingerprint requests are more reliable and specific for retrieving the correct record. Most counties provide fingerprinting services to their residents. Also, there are Approved Public Livescan Sites. Use the Instruction Manual to get directions for requesting a record. Residents within the state are required to complete the request form for in-residents, while out of state requests are directed to complete the out-of-state-residents request form. Submission of requests can be made in person or by mail to:

California Department of Justice
Record Review Unit
P.O. Box 903417
Sacramento, CA 94203-4170

Requests are processed at $25 per request in a certified check or money order made out to the "California Department of Justice." Call (916) 227-3849 for assistance.

Can Jail Records be Expunged in California?

An individual can have a jail record to his or her name without an eventual conviction or dismissed charges. Only such persons qualify to have their records expunged by state laws on criminal records.

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