Updated 9-27-21. There are strict guidelines for Notaries to follow when entering a correctional facility to meet with a signer. Knowledge and preparation beforehand will save you time and avoid delays.
Be Sure To Ask If The Signer Has Acceptable ID
One very important thing to be aware of is that inmates at correctional facilities typically have to surrender all their normal forms of identification — such as driver’s licenses — when they are incarcerated. This can be a problem if you show up for the notarization and the signer can’t produce satisfactory evidence of identity — and prison officials don’t always permit alternatives such as using credible identifying witnesses.
If you’re asked to notarize for a signer at a correctional facility, be sure to ask prior to the notarization if the signer will be allowed to use an acceptable form of identification. Signers in custody at a correctional facility or jail may not have access to common forms of ID such as a driver's license.
Arizona permits Notaries to accept an inmate identification card issued by the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) as proof of identity for signers in ADC custody, and any form of inmate ID issued by a county sheriff if the signer is in the sheriff's custody. California allows Notaries to accept an inmate identification card issued by the state Department of Correction and Rehabilitation for inmates in custody at a prison, or inmate identification issued by a sheriff’s department for an inmate in custody at a local detention facility. Florida permits Notaries to accept an inmate ID card issued by the U.S. Department of Justice or Bureau of Federal Prisons for an inmate in custody, or an inmate identification card issued after January 1, 1991, by the Florida Department of Corrections for an inmate in the custody of that department. Florida also allows Notaries to accept a sworn, written statement from a law enforcement officer as proof the inmate named in the document is the person whose signature is to be notarized.
If the signer won’t have access to a driver’s license or other acceptable forms of identification, check in advance if the facility will allow the use of credible identifying witnesses or another acceptable method of identification — not every facility allows the use of guards or staff as credible witnesses when an inmate needs a signature notarized. Also remember that some states, such as Texas, may require a credible witness to either be personally known to the Notary or to provide proof of identity if the credible witness is not personally known to the Notary.
Be Prepared For Additional Security Measures When Meeting With The Signer
A prison or jail may restrict the items you can bring with you before meeting with the signer. For example, bags or purses may not be permitted when you meet with the signer, or the facility may inspect and approve your seal and journal before the notarization. Again, it’s a good idea to contact the facility prior to the notarization and ask about restrictions on items you can bring with you, dress code and behavior rules for visitors, and any other special rules and restrictions you will need to follow during the notarization.
Interaction With The Signer May Be Restricted
When notarizing at a jail or correctional facility, be aware that your access to and interaction with the signer may be limited. In states that require you to complete a journal entry, such as California, this can make obtaining the inmate's signature or thumbprint more challenging. For example, you may have a sheet of Plexiglas or another barrier between you. You might not be allowed to hand a pen or journal to the signer directly, but may be required to give them to a guard who will hand them to the inmate.
You’ll want to protect the privacy of unrelated journal entries when you hand off the journal to the inmate to sign, so be sure to attach a cover or privacy guard to cover previous entries before handing the journal to the guard.
Also, be aware that your entire interaction with the inmate will be watched closely by one or more guards and your every word and move will be recorded on video.
Follow Your State’s Notary Laws
It can be challenging to get a document notarized for an inmate signer. A customer might ask you to notarize a signature outside the presence of an incarcerated signer, or request that you waive normal identification requirements because the inmate lacks access to a proper ID. Always remember that as a Notary, you have a responsibility to follow your state’s Notary laws. Never skip essential steps for notarization such as personal appearance or following your state laws regarding signer identification.
Source: National Notary Association