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What Would You Do: Answers To The Case Of The Prisoner’s Signature

What would you do if asked to notarize for a person who is in jail?

Last week’s “The Case of the Prisoner’s Signature” scenario posed questions about what Notaries need to consider when notarizing for incarcerated signers. The NNA Facebook community shared their experiences, and agreed that with proper planning and preparation, the actual process is no different than any other type of notarization.

“You can't just show up to prison to do a notarization,” advised North Carolina Notary Rhumel Anderson, who has performed prison-based refinance notarizations. “There are established rules that have to be followed before you get to meet with someone who is incarcerated.”

The case we posed involved a custody transfer situation, which generally requires a power of attorney to be drawn up and signed by the custodial parent releasing custody of the children to another competent adult; in this case, the ex-spouse. In many states and jurisdictions, this power of attorney document would then have to be notarized.

The two major issues with regards to prison notarizations are (a) properly identifying the signer and (b) obtaining the signer’s signature and possibly a thumbprint for your Notary journal.

Properly Identifying A Prisoner Signer
 

In most cases, individuals must surrender their IDs when they are incarcerated. They may be issued an alternative form of identification, such as an ID bracelet. In California, for example, inmates of state prisons may use their inmate IDs issued by the California Department of Corrections as identification for a notarization. Because inmates of prisons and penitentiaries often do not possess identification that meets the California requirements for a notarization, there is also pending California legislation to allow Notaries to accept inmate IDs issued by sheriff departments for inmates incarcerated in county jails. However, these legislative reforms will not apply to prisoners in federal or city prisons, and Notaries must find another way to identify the signer.

It is possible to use credible witnesses in states where they are allowed by law, in which case you would simply follow your state’s Notary guidelines for using witnesses. However, many prisons will not allow prison staff to serve as credible witnesses on the behalf of a prisoner, even if they are personally known to one another. In some situations, the inmate’s attorney may be allowed to obtain the prisoner’s driver’s license or passport from a signer’s family member so the notarization may proceed.

“I would ask the [ex-]husband if he had a current form of identification for his [ex-]wife,” said Virginia Notary Georgia Banks. “Then I would research the rules and regulations of the jail before I proceed.”

Tennessee Notary Rebecca Gregg would also involve the ex-husband in setting up the appointment: “I would have the [ex-]husband contact the prison to set up visitation with him, an attorney, and myself,” said Gregg. “Once I have a confirmed appointment, I would meet them at the prison and notarize her signature.”

The best rule of thumb when asked to notarize for a signer in prison, is to determine if the signer will be able to be properly identified before heading out to the appointment.

Obtaining The Signer’s Signature And Thumbprint
 

It is not unusual for the Notary to be completely separated from the prisoner/signer by a sheet of plexiglass. In such a case, you will likely need to hand the document and your Notary journal over to a guard, who would then take these items to the prisoner for his or her signature.

Since this scenario involves a power of attorney, if you are a California Notary, you may also need to hand your thumbprint inkpad over to the guard so the prisoner can affix his or her thumbprint in the journal. You will need to provide clear instructions to the prisoner for affixing the thumbprint.

Handing your journal to the guard and prisoner raises the issue of how to protect the privacy of journal information of other signers when the journal is out of your control. Your best practice would be to use a privacy guard to cover previous entries on the page, or to turn the page over so the journal entry the signer is signing is at the very top of a new page. If this requires skipping entries on the previous page, be sure to cross through those entries, so that your journal remains in sequential order.

Kelle Clark is a regular contributor to the National Notary Association.

Tips To Consider When Performing Jail Or Prison Notarizations

  • Keep It Professional: When identifying yourself to your signer, offer a card or ID that has your name and Notary commission. You do not need to include personal information, such as your address or home phone, if you are not comfortable doing so.
  • Leave It At Home: Bags and other belongings may not be allowed in the prison, so you’re best leaving those items behind. The prison may also have a policy requiring approval of your stamp and journal upon entry.
  • Dress Appropriately: Keep your attire professional and conservative.

17 Comments

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betty

22 Jun 2015

My DH is a trail attorney and must talk to clients in jail. Many of them are dangerous. I would refuse to notarize any paperwork in a jail. I DID do a refi signing for a policeman at his workplace last year. MUCH different. We really have to be careful where we travel. I did a Reverse Mortgage application in a neighborhood last week, and I will NOT be returning to that dangerous neighborhood to do the final signing.

B. Yolanda O'Brien

23 Jun 2015

i have notarized at my county's jail and have always used the prisoner's jail i.d. it has a photo, physical description, & serial #. is that a valid id for CA? CA does not provide notaries with id and that has been a problem. is the nna working on that issue?

National Notary Association

25 Jun 2015

Hello Yolanda. CA permits a Notary to accept an inmate identification card issued by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (if the inmate is in custody in prison), as long as the IDs is current or issued within the past five years.

Brenda

27 Jun 2015

I believe your response to Yolanda is confusing and possibly incorrect based on the above information regarding identifying inmates signatures. Her question is regarding inmates in county jail, not prison. If I read the article correctly, the issued id is only valid if issued by the State of California Dept of Corrections. Jails are usually under the direction of the county sheriff so you could not use that id. Of course you also state there is pending legislation that may allow use of the county issued id in the future.

Chris

12 May 2016

If a detainee in a CA County Jail has already had a legal document notarized is it necessary for them to still need a physical ID.

National Notary Association

13 May 2016

Hello. A signer must always present proof of identity as defined by state law each time the signer requests a notarization. Previously having a document notarized does not waive ID requirements for future notarizations.

Jennie Spivey

15 Sep 2016

My brother is in Okeechobee county jail. The Sargent notarized my brother's signature on the general power of attorney , but the document also requires attestation or witnesses who personally know him.How can that be accomplished? Thank you

National Notary Association

15 Sep 2016

Hi Jenny. You would need to contact the jail facility to ask about their policies regarding having witnesses present when an inmate is signing a document and having it notarized.

Valerie Mcconnell

17 Apr 2017

My brother is in jail he receives a pension check each month i obtained this document power of attorney in 2009 he since got locked up 3 months i need to receive money for his ditect deposit bank card from the veterans administration is my power attorney able to use to his direct deposit bank card to release to me or i am wondering do i need to repeat a power attorney in 2017 to

National Notary Association

17 Apr 2017

Hello. We're sorry but this is not a notarization question we can help you with. You would need to contact the bank or the veterans administration for assistance.

Doris Cox Meshack

28 Jul 2017

I too have notarized for an inmate. I was contacted by a young friend of the inmate to perform an acknowledgment and a jurat. The inmate was in San Diego county jail, so I called the jail to see what their policy was first. They offerred to send me an email and I accepted. It was very detailed. I followed those instructions exactly. The inmates friend met me outside and handed me the inmates California Driver license, and VA retirement disability ID. Everything went smoothly. I still had him ise his thumbprint though.

Grace

22 Aug 2017

Does a notary need lawyer approval/authorization to enter Metropolitan detention center (a federal prison)?

National Notary Association

23 Aug 2017

Hello. You would need to contact the prison to find out their rules for visiting the prison and for contact with a signer incarcerated there. Be aware that many correctional facilities have security rules that may cause issues when notarizing (prisoner lack of ID, Notary may not be able to hand journal directly to prisoner to sign, etc.) For more information, see here: https://www.nationalnotary.org/notary-bulletin/blog/2016/07/guide-notarizing-for-prison-inmates

Dawn

23 Feb 2018

How would I find a notary that would be willing to go to a state prison in Pennsylvania?

National Notary Association

23 Feb 2018

Hello. You may want to try searching online Notary directories such as SigningAgent.com to see if there is a Notary listed in your area who performs prison visits.

Marie Pylant

24 Jul 2018

I'm a notary from Georgia commission began in March 2018, how do I know if a person needs a signing agent or notary? I've been asked to notarize for a leasing apartment.

National Notary Association

25 Jul 2018

Hello Marie. The state of Georgia has traditionally been an “attorney-closing state,” meaning that only licensed attorneys may conduct the settlement at which closing documents are signed. Effective July 1, 2012, Georgia Senate Bill 365 was signed into law as Act No. 744 to clarify that only a lender or a licensed Georgia attorney may conduct settlements and disburse closing funds in the state; and the law further prohibits anyone other than the settlement agent for the entire transaction from overseeing the closing session (OCGA 44-14-13[10]).

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