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If your loved one is in jail

Learn from the Department of Public Defense how you can support your loved one in jail.

Jails can be confusing and frightening. Here’s how you can help navigate the first few days.

Your loved one could be in the King County Correctional Facility (KCCF) in downtown Seattle or the Maleng Regional Justice Center (MRJC) in Kent. You can find out if your loved one is in jail by visiting the Subject Lookup tool on the King County Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention (DAJD) website. You can also find out when they were booked, what they are being investigated for, and if bail has been set.

When and how to support your loved one during the legal process

Your loved one will likely feel very alone and afraid if they’re in jail. But there are many things you can do to support them. It makes a huge difference if family, friends, and community members show up at various steps along the way.

Communicating with your loved one

After your loved one has been jailed, you can communicate with them via video, telephone, and email—though you must first make sure they have enough money in their accounts. (See below.) Your loved one cannot receive a call but can place a call.

Contact an adult in jail

Contact a youth in detention

Send money to your loved one

Telephone calls, video visits, and emails cost money. So do snacks and other incidentals. There are many ways to deposit money in your loved one’s account—you can do so in various ways including online, through an app, or at payment kiosks. You will need a credit card for most of them. The payment kiosks at the jails and walk-in retailers take cash. You can also send a money order or cashier’s check. All these services charge a fee for use.

How to send money to an adult in jail

What happens after a person has been arrested

Here’s some information that will help you navigate the first few days if your loved one is in jail.


Here's what usually happens at booking:

  • The person is photographed, fingerprinted, and searched. Their clothes and personal belongings will be taken away and put in a bag. An inventory sheet will list the contents of the bag.
  • Then they’re interviewed by a PR screener. PR stands for personal recognizance, which means a written promise to return to court. The PR screener will try to contact relatives, to confirm details the arrested person has provided.
  • If you are contacted by the PR screener, this is a chance to support your loved one. It is helpful to be responsive and thorough.
    • You may be asked:
      • Where your loved one lives where your loved on works or studies
      • Your loved one's family, friends, and community support.
  • The person is also interviewed about any medical or mental health issues.
  • The person is then assigned to a housing unit within the jail.

The first few days after booking

If your loved one is arrested, it does not necessarily mean they have now been charged with a crime. There is often an initial investigation period after arrest but before any charges are filed. During this time, the prosecutor’s office reviews police reports and other materials. Then they decide what criminal charges, if any, they will file.

First appearance

After being arrested, a person is entitled to a hearing before a judge within 48 hours and generally the next business day. At this hearing, the judge will determine if there was probable cause that the person arrested committed a criminal offense. This is called a first appearance.

It makes a huge difference when family, friends, and community members show up to a first appearance. This may be the most important thing you can do for a loved one within the first few days of incarceration. Also, most judges will allow family or community members to speak in support of release and to provide information that the court should know—such as whether the client supports their family, the client’s stability around work, the names of community organizations they have been involved with, and more.

If the judge finds there is not probable cause for a charge, your loved one must be released immediately without any conditions. The prosecutor can continue to investigate the case and may eventually file charges.

If the judge determines there is probable cause, the prosecutor may ask that your loved one be held in jail for 72 hours. During this time, the prosecutor will determine whether they will file charges. Your loved one will be represented by a public defender at this hearing. The prosecutor may ask the judge to set bail at a certain amount. A public defender can argue for your loved one's release or a lower bail amount than the prosecutor is asking for.

Second appearance

At the end of the first appearance hearing, the judge will set a return date, or second appearance. The second appearance will be at the end of the 72-hour period the prosecutor has to decide if they will file charges.

If a person has been held in jail, and the prosecutor declines to file charges at the end of the 72 hours, the person will be released without conditions.

If the person was released at the first appearance, they will return for second appearance to learn if the prosecutor is filing charges at this time. If so, they will either be given another date to return or may in some cases be arraigned and asked to enter a plea.

If the prosecutor decides to file charges, the court schedules an arraignment, which must be held within 14 days of the filing date.

Charges later in the process

If the prosecutor does not file charges during this 72-hour period, your loved one can still face charges by the prosecutor. Charges could come weeks, months, or even years later. It depends on the statute of limitations for the alleged crime, the maximum amount of time the prosecutor has to make a charging decision.

Public defense attorneys

Your loved one will have a public defender when they come before a judge in their first appearance (see above). That lawyer will likely not be permanently assigned to the case and will only be their lawyer for this first appearance. If your loved one remains in custody and charges are filed, another public defender will automatically be assigned to represent them for all future court hearings as their lawyer for the case.

Your loved one’s lawyer can talk to you only if your loved one has given permission for them to do so. That permission can be in writing or spoken but must come directly from your loved one to their lawyer. Please do not ask your loved one any details about the case when you speak to them over the phone. All telephone conversations with people in jail are recorded and can be used as evidence by the prosecutor. If you have questions about the case, you should ask the lawyer. The lawyer can only speak to you about the case if your loved one has given them permission to do so.


For most charges, bail will not be set until your loved one sees a judge at their first appearance. For certain misdemeanor offenses, bail may be set on a predetermined schedule before that first hearing. You will be able to see on the Subject Lookup Tool what bail, if any, has been set. If your loved one is arrested on a misdemeanor warrant, they may be able to get released by paying this amount. 

The Northwest Community Bail Fund is a local nonprofit organization. They provide cash bail for people charged with crimes who are unable to afford bail while awaiting routine court appearances. They serve King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties in Washington state.