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Research Tip #23

Prison Inmate Records

The New York State Archives holds records relating to thousands of past inmates of New York State prisons. These records take the form of admission and discharge registers, summary cards, and inmate case files.  Most of the records are not indexed by inmate name; they are arranged by inmate identification number, which corresponds roughly to the date the inmate was admitted to prison.

In order to search for an inmate record onsite, or request that Archives staff perform a search, researchers must know the full name of the inmate, the facility in which the inmate was incarcerated, and the admission date or inmate identification number. Census data is generally not sufficient to locate inmate identification numbers, except for the 1940 U.S. Census which provides this information. If researchers lack the admission date, it is possible to search the records using the date of conviction, since the date of admission was usually a few days afterward. The date of conviction may be available from a newspaper account, or from the county clerk’s office in the county where the inmate's trial occurred.

Summary information about adult inmates can be released to researchers under law.  Access to other information, including probation, parole, medical, and criminal history reports, is restricted by various state and federal statutes and regulations.  Access to information in inmate records is determined by Archives staff on a case by case basis.