The Georgia State Prison System
The criminal justice system in Georgia consists of law enforcement, the state judiciary, and agencies that manage convicted offenders. These latter agencies make up the prison system. The Georgia prison system refers to local, state, and federal institutions responsible for holding and rehabilitating individuals indicted/convicted of actions that threaten public safety. The Georgia Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons are in charge of these institutions and maintain publicly available records on incarcerated offenders.
What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison in Georgia?
For the most part, jail and prison are colloquial terms that refer to a place where offenders spend time after breaking the law. However, these terms are different. Jails refer to local facilities run by local law enforcement—typically sheriff departments, that hold offenders within a county or municipality. Generally, county jail is the first port of call after an arrest and pending conviction in court. The facility also holds individuals convicted of violating local ordinances and misdemeanors. In terms of length of stay, the jail inmates typically serve sentences of less than twelve months.
On the contrary, a prison typically holds higher-level offenders, i.e., persons convicted of state felonies and federal crimes. Furthermore, a jail is under the direct authority of the local sheriff departments. A prison is under the Department of Corrections and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). In terms of length of stay, prison inmates typically serve a sentence of more than twelve months.
How Many Prisons are in Georgia?
Georgia State currently operates a total of 94 prisons and penal institutions, according to the facilities division. The federal government also operates several federal prisons in the state. These include:
- 8 federal prisons
- 35 state prisons;
- 21 county prisons;
- 4 private prisons;
- 12 transitional centers; and,
- 8 probation detention centers.
How do I search for an Inmate in Georgia State Prison?
There are two ways to search for an inmate in a prison facility in Georgia. The choice of which to use largely depends on convenience and the type of facility.
Phone call/Email: Interested persons may contact the administrative office of the local jail or prison via phone or email to inquire about an inmate. Interested persons may consult the facilities directory for state prisons. A web search will display the contact information of the local jail administration. While this method allows access to the most up-to-date information, it is not readily available to everyone. Contacting the facility is also dependent on response time and disclosure policy on custody of inmates for security reasons.
Online search: Online search is the most readily available method for searching for inmates. Local sheriff departments maintain logs of inmates currently held in custody. Likewise, the Georgia Department of Corrections maintains an Offender Search Portal for finding information on offenders in state facilities. If the inmate of interest is in federal prison, use the BOP offender locator. To query an electronic database, the searcher must know the name or the inmate I. D. number. Although this method is very efficient, a drawback is the delay hours it takes to upload inmate information.
Are Incarceration Records Public in Georgia?
Yes, incarceration records and criminal history records are public information in Georgia. Interested persons must contact the specific local and state agencies to obtain a copy of the documents.
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching more straightforward, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for 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 document or person involved
Third-party sites are independent of government sources and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party websites may vary.
How to Look Up Jail Records in Georgia
To look up jail records in Georgia, contact the penal institution that has custody of the inmate. For state institutions, direct the request to:
Inmate Records and Information
Georgia Department of Corrections
P. O. Box 1529
Forsyth, GA 31029
Alternatively, send an open records request via email to email@example.com. For local jails, find the jail contact information on the sheriff department’s official website. A simple web search or a visit to the county website will provide this link.
Meanwhile, if the requester does not know the specific institution of incarceration, he/she may request arrest records or criminal history information.
Arrest records are also useful for finding information on a person’s interactions with law enforcement. However, these records do not provide definitive proof of guilt. An interested person may get arrest records from local law enforcement in the jurisdiction of the arrest. Conversely, criminal history from the local law enforcement provides definitive proof of guilt. It is also a chronological account of a person’s arrests, indictments, and convictions in Georgia. While both records often suffice for general purposes, neither provides the complete picture. If a requester is interested in detailed information, he/she must contact the court that adjudicated the case for court records or use online access.
Can Jail Records be Expunged in Georgia?
It depends. Georgia allows eligible persons to apply for expungement, i.e., record restriction under O. C. G. A. § 35–3–37(d). While the process does not destroy the records, it sequesters the records from the public domain. Only authorized entities in the Georgia criminal justice agency may access expunged records, and the person may deny the existence of such a crime.
A person only qualifies for expungement if:
- He/she released without referral to a prosecuting attorney after an arrest;
- After referral, the prosecuting attorney dismissed the charges, did not indict him/her or file an accusation;
- The court dismissed the charges following an indictment;
- The person has no other pending criminal charges or investigations; and,
For persons convicted of certain crimes, he/she is not a repeat offender of the same/similar crimes within the last five years.
Georgia has provided systematic instructions and forms for filing for expungement in the state. Generally, the individual must submit a records restriction form to the original agency and the prosecuting attorney. The prosecutor shall review the request to determine fitness for expungement. If the prosecutor declines the request for expungement, the individual has the right to file a civil appeal in court.