Booking records are public records, which are accessible by anyone. The way to get information about a booked suspect, and to relay important information about the health status and needs of someone recently booked, will depend on many factors, such as the size of the jail, the number of suspects being processed, and the sophistication of police procedures.
Usually, you can get this information. Police officers normally take arrested suspects to the closest jail. The quickest way to find out if someone has been taken to jail may be to contact a bail bond office in the vicinity of a jail and ask the bonding agent for information. A bonding agent may not receive information until after the booking process is over, but bonding agents are generally “wired in” to jail procedures and can get information as soon as it is available. Most bail bond agents will help you whether or not you ultimately purchase a bail bond from them.
You can also seek information in person, directly from a jail facility. Ask to speak to a desk officer (who might be called a watch commander) to find out whether a particular person has been arrested and is in the jail.
When making inquiries, remember that people may be booked under a name that they don’t usually use. For example, a woman’s driver’s license may have been issued in her married name even though she has gotten divorced and no longer uses her married name in everyday interactions. So if an initial inquiry comes up empty, consider other names a person might have been booked under.
Recognize first that most jails routinely assess newly arrested people for mental and physical health issues. If you know that an arrestee has physical or mental health issues and have an opportunity to speak with police officers and jailers, advise them about the person’s condition, including specific diagnoses and need for medications. If you can talk to the arrestee personally, tell the arrestee that it is okay to discuss the condition with police officers. At the same time, remind them not to discuss the facts of a case with police officers without first talking to a lawyer.
If an arrestee needs medication, ask jail officials whether you can bring it to the jail facility. If an arrestee’s situation is critical, insist that he or she receive medical attention, whether by a jail physician or a hospital or clinic. For example, if your son was arrested for being under the influence of illegal drugs, insist that he be evaluated for care in a jailhouse or outside detox facility.
When speaking to jail officials, obtain the arrestee’s booking number and the email address or fax number of the jail facility. You may need this information to give the jailers information about the arrestee’s health or mental fitness.
You might also obtain and fill out a jail’s “Inmate Health Form” if one is available. If not, prepare your own note advising jailers of an arrestee’s:
Be sure that you don't write anything about the charges; include only medical information. Keep a copy of what you have written and give a copy to the arrestee’s defense lawyer.
Finally, if an arrestee with physical or mental health needs is likely to remain in jail for an extended period of time, ask whether a medical or mental health caseworker can be assigned to the arrestee.
This article was excerpted from The Criminal Law Handbook, by Paul Bergman, J.D., and Sara J. Berman, J.D.