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There are many reasons for seeking public records. Citizens may want to know how their elected officials voted on a particular issue or a crime victim may want to know when the perpetrator will be released. Each state has different laws and navigating them can be tough, especially if you don’t know where to look or how to request information. Here is some information to help you seek public records in Illinois.

What does the Illinois public records law say?

When you submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, government agencies have five business days to respond. Anyone from any state may request public information found in Illinois.  Requests can be made in person, verbally, by email or mail. Some agencies have specific requirements. There is a detailed list of reasons for denial and any denials for information must cite one of those reasons. All branches of the state government are subject to open records but there are more than 25 categories of broad, detailed exemptions. 

To learn more about the Freedom of Information Act in the Illinois Constitution, visit the secretary of state website.

How can a person access public records in Illinois?

For public records access in Illinois, some records are available online while others might require a formal request. If a request is necessary, it can be delivered by mail, email, or by phone to the record-holding department. 

Every department is different, so expect some variation to the rules if you’re accessing records from multiple places. 

In general, a public records request should include: 

  • Your name and contact information, including an email, phone number, and mailing address
  • The name of the document you want access to with as much detail as possible
  • A specific time period that you’d like to receive the materials by
  • How to deliver the documents, whether by email or mail

Due to COVID-19, some public offices may have limited hours of operation. As a result, online requests are best, but if you want to go in person you should call ahead.

Illinois criminal records

Criminal records are accessible in Illinois but may be in a variety of places. Those seeking a criminal background check are commonly employers looking to hire a specific person. Below is some information to make the search easier.

What’s on a criminal record?

A criminal record is a list of times where a person had some dealings with law enforcement or the courts. This combines information from several places including local law enforcement, courts and the state prison system. It can include times, dates and charges in arrests, how the case was settled in court and any prison time served.

  • There are four things all criminal records in every state will contain:
  • Personal information such as their nationality, birthday and legal name.
  • Fingerprints and a mugshot
  • Distinguishing features such as tattoos, body piercings or other noticeable attributes
  • The listing of the offense with a description of the crime

Where can a person find Illinois criminal records?

Those wanting to run a background check, like an employer who’d like to look into an applicant’s background, can get a statewide history transcript from the Illinois State Police, Bureau of Investigation.

For a thorough report, you will need to submit fingerprints, which you can have done in person at the ISP at 260 N. Chicago St., Joliet, IL, Monday through Friday or you can also go to any licensed live scan fingerprint vendor.

There are also name-based inquiries for quicker background checks through the Criminal History Response Process (CHIRP). You can register and link directly with CHIRP from the ISP website. While a fingerprint inquiry requires consent of the person, a name search does not.

There are fees for both services. It costs $20 to get state records with fingerprints on paper and $15 to get them sent electronically. If you include both the state and FBI records, the cost is $33.25 and $28.25, respectively.

Name-based inquiries are $16 for paper documents and $10 for electronic documents.

Illinois inmate records

Illinois typically has more than 52,000 prisoners in its prison system across the state. However, the governor decided to release at least 4,000 of them because of the fear of COVID-19 spreading through the prison. Accessing inmate records can provide information on who has been released and who remains behind bars.

What’s on an inmate record?

Inmate record information can be different from state to state, but Illinois records typically have both personal information and details of the person’s prison sentence. That would include information such as:

  • Their name, gender and birthdate
  • A mug shot
  • Where they are being incarcerated
  • The inmate registration number
  • Jail transfer information
  • Custody status

Where can a person find Illinois inmate records?

The Illinois State Department of Corrections has an inmate locator where you can search the state. You can search by last name, their IDOC number of birthdate. It also links to the Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator. 

Illinois court records

There is a lot of information you can obtain from court records in Illinois. There are several resources where you can get court records. Remember that court records are often held in various courts across the state and that can make them harder to obtain than most records. 

What’s on a court record?

Court records can be extensive and include a lot of many types of documents. These documents can include things like:

  • Case files
  • Dockets
  • Court orders
  • Court minutes
  • Documents ordering judgement
  • Jury files
  • Witness documentation

Where can a person find Illinois court records?

Those seeking Illinois court records must obtain them from the local court handling the case. The Illinois Association of Court Clerks makes it easier by listing all the county links on their page. Those seeking information should contact the county clerk listed to find out how to obtain court records. Be prepared to place a formal request for records involving court cases and have case information and a case number handy, if possible. 

The largest Illinois court circuit is the Cook County Circuit Court. There is no online access to court records. You must physically go to the Cook County Courthouse and use a public-access terminal to access records as the system doesn’t publish criminal records online. Also, Cook County does not keep dispositions for arrests or charges where they didn’t go to court.

In Illinois courts, the clerk can charge you a certified disposition fee to process your request. The fee is $9 in Cook County. 

The process to access court records remains the same no matter where the case was heard. Whether it was heard by the Illinois Supreme Court or elsewhere in the judicial circuit, your point of contact should be the clerk of court at the specific courthouse.  

Illinois vital records

Illinois, like all states, has an office that maintains all vital records. Vital records is documentation of life events such as births, deaths, marriages, and divorces. People need these records for passports, genealogy and sometimes to prove their identity.

What information is needed to request a vital record?

Those seeking a vital record in Illinois will be required to submit information to help find the document. This can include:

  • The event date and location
  • The full name of the person, including maiden names
  • A case file number for divorce cases or a license number for a marriage record

Where can a person find Illinois vital records?

The State of Illinois has strict rules on accessing vital records and only certain people with interest can obtain them. Illinois does not list birth records as public, so only a few can receive copies of them. Death records are only available to those with a personal or property right interest in the decedent. Adoption files are sealed once the adoption is complete because Illinois is a closed state.

However, those seeking uncertified copies of birth and death records for genealogical purposes may have better luck. The state does allow public access to birth certificates that are more than 75 years old and death certificates that are more than 20 years old.

Marriage, divorce and civil union records are only available by speaking with the clerk of the circuit court in the county where the event took place. Certifications can be obtained in person in the clerk’s office. 

The state public health office can verify they exist but requesters must go to the local courts to obtain certified copies. All vital records requests must be made in writing.

Frequently asked questions about Illinois records

Can a request be submitted by non-residents of the state?

Yes, anyone in the United States can submit an open records request regardless of the state they reside in. 

Is there a records custodian in Illinois?

Yes, there is a state official in charge of records. However, the Attorney General’s Office has a division called the Public Access Counselor to help resolve disputes between those requesting and agencies refusing to honor the request. All agencies must notify the Public Access Counselor of any denials along with reasons for denial.

What exemptions exist?

While no agency is exempted from FOIA requests, there are exemptions with detailed language for each category and listing ways where a request could be exempted. Exemptions in the federal freedom of information law can also be used to exempt certain state documents.

Illinois exemptions are broad, so anyone seeking information should read the exact law. Some of things exempted are:

  • Private information
  • Personal information
  • Law enforcement information in active or ongoing investigations
  • Law enforcement information that could lead to a biased trial or mistrial
  • Trade secrets
  • Grant or proposal documents
  • Educational Examination Data Architectural or engineering data on facilities
  • Communications with attorneys or auditors
  • Closed meeting minutes until released under the Open Meetings Act
  • Public employee grievances or disciplinary action
  • Real estate proprietary insurance data
  • Security threats

How long does that state have to respond?

The agency has five business days to respond.

Is there an appeals process in place?

Those who don’t receive a response from the agency within the time required or who disagree with the denial of a request for information can file a complaint with the Public Access Counselor’s office. Agencies found guilty of wrongdoing incur significant penalties of between $2,500 and $5000.

If the requester feels the Public Access Counselor didn’t make the right decision in their FOIA request, the one requesting information can file appeal the decision by filing a lawsuit in circuit court. 

What fees are associated with requesting public records?

Fees to obtain public records in Illinois are specified in the law. Agencies can’t charge search fees and must charge only the actual cost of labor to copy them. Also, if they don’t respond within five business days, they could dismiss the fee.

There are no fees for requests totaling less than 50 black and white pages and those in color can only be charged the cost of copying them. The copying fee is $.15 per page. With electronic records, the cost can only include the cost of the medium that the record is copied onto such as a flash drive. The Illinois Vehicle Code sets the fee for driving records.

  • Updated November 16, 2020
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