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The New York State Prison System

The New York State Prison is a collection of facilities that oversee the confinement, rehabilitation, and supervision of individuals arrested or convicted of criminal behavior to ensure public safety. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision is the central authority responsible for the management and operation of the prisons in New York. On the other hand, the local sheriff's office is the local authority in charge of county jails. These state and local authorities are also the official custodians of prison records. Requesters may contact the specific custodian to access prison records. Likewise, interested individuals may obtain prison records through third-party service providers such as

What is the Difference between Jail and Prison in New York?

Jail and prison are often used interchangeably as facilities where offenders are incarcerated. However, both facilities differ in roles, management, and the severity of the crimes of the inmates. According to the Bureau of Justice Services, jails are short-term facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial, sentencing, or both. The local law enforcement i.e., the sheriff's office operates jails. Jail inmates are offenders that committed a misdemeanor and were sentenced to a term of less than one year. On the other hand, prisons are longer-term facilities that typically hold felons and persons with sentences of more than one year. The state or the federal government operates prisons in New York.

How Many Prisons are in New York?

The state of New York operates 53 correctional facilities in various counties according to the New York City Department of Corrections. These include:

  • Federal prisons
  • State Prisons
  • County jails
  • City jails

How do I search for an Inmate in New York State Prison?

Under the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), members of the public have the right to access to logs of currently incarcerated inmates maintained by local and state arms of the Department of Corrections and Community Service – with certain exceptions. Asides inmate medical records, individuals may access documents related to reports, statements, examinations, criminal history, etc., on inmates.

Interested individuals may visit the records office at the local jail, state, or federal correctional facility to request information on a current inmate. Likewise, the Department of Corrections and Community Service maintains search tools on the Offender portal. To use the portal, the searcher must know the inmate's full name, birth year, or inmate ID.

Are Incarceration Records Public in New York?

Yes. Under the New York Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), incarceration records (including criminal history information) are accessible to the public. Interested members of the public must contact the local sheriff's office or the official custodian of the records.

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 New York

Unless sealed by court order, interested individuals may access jail records maintained by local and state law enforcement. Also, with exception to inmate medical records, requesters may access jail history, arrest reports, statements, criminal history information, etc., on current and past offenders. Interested requesters may direct their request to:

  • The local jail: The local jail or correctional facility creates, maintains, and disseminates records on all current and past offenders incarcerated at the facility. Some county jails maintain online search portals to lookup jail records. Thus, requesters may visit the official jail website before visiting the jail in person to look up jail records.
  • The sheriff's office: Interested individuals may request criminal history information from the local sheriff's office. However, the requirements and fees to facilitate this search differ from county to county.
  • The Clerk of Courts: The Clerk of Courts in the county where the conviction occurred creates, maintains, and disseminates the informal history of offenders' convictions. Requesters do not need to provide the individual's fingerprints to request a criminal history record search (CHRS). However, sealed records do not appear in this search. While the requirements and fees differ from county to county, generally, requesters must provide the individual's name, birthday, and pay a fee to facilitate the search.
  • The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS): The DCJS creates, maintains, and disseminates official records of arrest and conviction history, aka rap sheet. Requesters must provide the fingerprints of the individual to access these records.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): The FBI also creates, maintains, and disseminates rap sheets pertaining to an individual's convictions in every state and Federal Court. However, Requesters must also provide the fingerprints of the individual to access these records.

Can Jail Records be Sealed or Expunged in New York?

No, New York does not allow the expungement of jail records. However, eligible individuals may petition the court to seal records of convictions in New York under Section 160.59 of the Criminal Procedure Law. While sealing jail records removes such records from public access, these records are still accessible to certain entities. These include the offender, their legal designee, attorney, government agencies (armed with a court order) as well as individuals who present a court order. Likewise, certain employers may access sealed jail records if the job involves carrying a firearm. However, not all jail records can be sealed in New York. For example, jail records related to sex offenses, violent crimes, class A felonies, etc.

How to Seal a Jail Record in New York

Individuals who wish to seal a jail record must meet eligibility requirements under the New York sealing statutes. Generally, the individual must then prepare an application and attach supporting documents such as a certificate of disposition, a sworn statement containing the reason for the petition, and other documents that may support the petition. Then, the petitioner must submit these records at the court where the conviction occurred. The petitioner must also serve the local District Attorney with the completed application and documents filed. The District Attorney must respond to the petition with 45 days if they object to the sealing. After this window has elapsed, the judge will review the application and consider certain factors before granting or denying the petition.

NB: The petitioner must contact the local court for specific instructions on how to seal jail records if eligible.

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