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Tenn. Inmate Database Now Online for Anyone to Search
By GoMemphis.com
Published: 12/23/2002

You now can find a Tennessee felon online. 
The Tennessee Department of Correction recently opened a database that allows computer users to hunt for inmates on the Internet. 
The Felony Offender Information Lookup (FOIL) at www.state.tn.us/correction gives the inmate's prison number, date of birth, race, sex, custody status, prison site, sentencing date, parole eligibility, parole hearing date, hearing result and sentence expiration. 
The database includes inmates past and present. For instance, it includes James Earl Ray, who pleaded guilty to the 1968 shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Lorraine Motel but later recanted. He was convicted in 1969, sentenced to 99 years in prison and died in 1998. 
More detailed information, including physical characteristics, type of offense and photos are to be added later. 
Tennessee has some 18,000 felony offenders in 14 prison complexes. 
'It (FOIL) has been in the long-range plan for several years, and it's something the public has been asking for,' said TDOC spokesman Steve Hayes. 'It will benefit the public, add to the department's mission of public safety and will be of great benefit to victims of crime.' 
Online inmate locator sites also are available for federal prisons and for prisons in other states, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Kentucky. 
Locally, information is available online about prisoners and court dates. A Tennessee sex offender registry has been available online for several years. 
Victims rights advocates who sometimes complain that they are overlooked by the criminal justice system applaud the Correction Department's online service. 
Civil libertarians, however, say the Web sites permanent ly stigmatize offenders long after they have paid their debt to society. 
In a case recently argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, attorneys for two Alaska sex offenders want online sex registries declared unconstitutional. 
The attorneys contend that their clients' pictures, addresses and offenses on the Internet punish them after they have served their jail sentence or probation. 
Paula Voss, president of the 800-member Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said the Tennessee site provides useful information to a point. 
'In its present form, I think it's public information that would be available if you went to the courthouse,' said Voss, a federal public defender in Knoxville. 'But if they expand, I might have some concerns about all that personal information being made available about someone. That could raise more concerns with me than what's on there right now.' 
Hayes said the public has asked for photos and identifying characteristics of convicted felons. 


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