Obtaining New York State Prison Records in One Step
Frequently Asked Questions

Stephen P. Morse , San Francisco

1. What's the advantage of using this one-step form rather than going to the Department of Corrections website directly?

The only reliable parameter that the Department of Corrections website allows you to search on is the last name.  You can enter a first name, but they use that as a starting point rather than as a search parameter.  That is, if you are looking for first name of Jack and last name that starts with Rosen, the first hit you get will be for a Jack Rosen.  After that you will get consecutive hits for the many Jack Rosens.  After that you will get hits for the other Rosens whose first name comes after Jack.  Only after you  exhaust all the Rosens will you start getting names like Rosenberg.  But the hits will list all the Rosenbergs, regardless of first name.

From the One-Step site, you can enter first name is Jack and last name starts with Rosen, and you will get just that.  You won't get all the other hits for which the first name is not Jack.

The Department of Corrections website also lets you search on birth year, but it is flawed.  Specifically they are attempting to report all people who are born that year or later.  But the way they do that is to get a batch of four matches that meet the criteria, then they look for another batch of four, etc.  However each time they do this, they use the age criteria based on the last match they found.  For example, if you wanted people born after 1940, the first set of four would be correct and might be 1950, 1960, 1952, and 1963.  For the next four they won't remember that you originally said 1940 but instead will take some year based on results they just found.  Perhaps 1950.  So they'll no longer find a person born in 1945, even though he should have been found based on the original search request.

Bottom line -- the search parameters on the Department of Corrections website are seriously flawed.

From the One-Step site you can reliably search on any parameter and you will get back what you expect.

Another advantage is that the One-Step site lets you search on sex, race, status, and facility, none of which are supported search parameters from the Department of Corrections website.

Still another advantage is that you can specify the number of matches per page that you want to get, and are not restricted to the four matches per page of the Department of Corrections website.

2. What is the disadvantage of using this one-step form?

Since the Department of Corrections website does not support many of the search parameters of the One-Step site, I have to simulate such a search for you.  I do that by fetching all records starting from the name you specify, and checking each one to see if it meets the other search parameters.  If it does, I display it on your screen, and if not I ignore it.  This simulated search is of course slow.  In fact, I've timed it at about 100 records per minute.  That means that if you are searching for all the Smiths who are currently in Sing Sing, and there are 10000 Smiths in the database for all the facilities, it will take 100 minutes for me to go through them all and report the Sing Sing matches back to you.  Have patience!

3. Is there any way I can get feedback to know if it's downloading?

That's a good question considering that it might take a long time to perform a simulated search as described in question 2.  The Microsoft IE browser does not display anything until the entire page finishes loading.  However the Netscape browser will incrementally display the page as it is being loaded.  So if you would like to see the  results as they are being generated, use the Netscape browser.

4. Where can I get more information about this database?

Here are some of the faq pages that used to be on the Department of Corrections site:


-- Steve Morse