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If you were ever incarcerated at the Harris County Jail, you might be able to claim your leftover commissary money.

In April, county auditors found the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, was holding $1 million of formerly incarcerated people’s funds that hadn’t been returned to them when they were freed.

Sheriff’s officials said that the roughly 59,100 people who are missing cash did not retrieve their money upon leaving the jail facility. While the average account contained $17, some accounts held more than $100, sheriff’s officials said at the time.

Here’s how to find out if you’re owed money and how to get it back, along with more information about how the Sheriff’s Office came to hold $1 million.

Reclaiming your cash

Finding out if you’re owed money and how to get it depends on two things: how much money was left behind and how long it’s been sitting there.

If it’s been less than three years since you were released from jail:

  • Call the jail’s Inmate Bank during business hours at 346-286-1120.
  • Be prepared with your “system person number,” known as SPN.
  • On the call, staff can tell you whether the Sheriff’s Office is holding your funds, the balance on your account and how to claim your money.
  • If there’s money to collect, you will be directed to pick up a debit card loaded with your funds at the Joint Processing Center. The address is 700 N. San Jacinto St., Houston, TX 77002.

If it’s been more than three years since you were released from jail and you had less than $100 in unclaimed funds:

  • Visit the Harris County Treasurer’s Office unclaimed funds website at Enter your name in the search tool on the website.
  • If you find your name in the search tool, contact the Treasurer’s Office at 832-927-6865 for assistance.

If it’s been more than three years since you were released from jail and you had more than $100 in unclaimed funds:

  • Visit the Texas unclaimed funds website at Enter your name in the search tool on the website.
  • After locating your name and address in the search tool, click the “CLAIM” button for each unclaimed fund, then click “CONTINUE TO FILE CLAIM.”
  • Complete the listed steps, which will require you to provide an email address, phone number, address, and Social Security Number or Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • You will receive an email with a document that must be printed, filled out, scanned and uploaded at a link shared in the email.
  • More information is available on the Texas Unclaimed Property’s Frequently Asked Questions website at

If you need additional help finding your money, call the Harris County Jail’s Inmate Bank at 346-286-1120.

Why does the jail have unclaimed funds?

People in jail can open accounts and have money placed in them to pay for things like commissary items, legal fees and personal bonds.

When a person is going through the process of getting released from the jail, they are reminded to pick up any leftover money in their account in the form of a debit card at the Inmate Bank, Sheriff’s Office Director of Finance Michael Lanham said. However, many people just walk right by the pickup window, Lanham said.

“If they do stop, our Inmate Bank staff hands them a form to sign, indicating that they have received their funds,” Lanham said in an email.

Sarah Wood, general counsel for the Harris County Public Defender’s Office, said the inmate bank “seems to be the only” place when leaving the jail where people are not called by name to stop. That can be confusing for people who have had their moves dictated by jail staff while incarcerated or haven’t slept for long before leaving.

“Studies show that even a single night in jail can have devastating financial consequences, and that as poverty gets worse, so does crime,” said Wood, who stressed that her office could potentially work with the Sheriff’s Office to help people get their money back. “Sending people out on the street without their money is not the best way to keep everyone safe.”

When people do not pick up leftover money, the Sheriff’s Office holds onto it. There is no process for automatically returning cash.

What did county auditors find?

In an April report, county auditors found that 59,104 people formerly jailed in Houston had not received money left in their accounts.

Auditors suggested that the Sheriff’s Office “return appropriate funds to the former inmates as required by statute.”

The auditors cited a state law that says “the department shall provide the inmate with money held in the inmate’s trust account” when they’re released. However, the law only applies to state prisons.

Additionally, county auditors said the Sheriff’s Office “should develop written procedures for the monitoring, review, and issuance of funds that are held subsequent to an inmate’s release.”

What’s the Sheriff’s Office response so far?

Since the audit, roughly $558,000 dollars sitting in Sheriff’s Office coffers for over three years has been transferred to county and state unclaimed property divisions — something sheriff’s officials pledged to do.

The remaining roughly $444,000 stayed with the Sheriff’s Office.

The procedures for getting people their leftover money when leaving the jail has not changed since the audit, Lanham said.

Correction, July 13: An earlier version of this story incorrectly spelled Sarah Wood's name.

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Eileen Grench covers public safety for the Abdelraoufsinno, where two of her primary areas of focus will be the Houston Police Department and Harris County Sheriff’s Office. She is returning to local...