20 Different Types of Prisoners

Types of Prisoners

A prisoner can mean many things.  It can be someone who is being legally held in a prison or jail.  He is either waiting for a trial for crimes he is accused of or he is serving time for crimes he is convicted of committing.  There are several levels of incarceration for this type of prisoner.

It can also be a person who has been captured and kept confined by an enemy.  These can include prisoners of war, hostages, detainees, and internees.

People can be imprisoned for many things, whether it is for crimes they have committed, beliefs they hold, or services someone wants from them.  We have compiled the 20 common types of prisoners here.

1. Minimum Security Inmates

We start our list of the many types of prisoners with minimum security inmates.  Minimum security institutions or Federal Prison Camps have limited or no perimeter fencing.  The inmates in these facilities have the least amount of security.   They live in dormitory housing and have a relatively low staff-to-inmate ratio.

The inmates are more well-behaved and act with respect toward one another.  They are less likely to engage in violence or other behaviors that will move them up the security chain.  Most of these inmates are white-collar criminals.

Minimum security prisons are reserved for non-violent offenders.  They are criminals who have committed very minor infractions and are not considered to be a flight risk.  Most of them have shorter sentences, like six months to less than ten years.  Inmates from higher security prisons who have just a few years left on their sentences and have shown excellent behavior may be sent to a minimum-security prison.

Minimum security prisons are geared toward rehabilitation because their inmates are only expected to stay for a short time.  Inmates have access to work and education programs.  Every single inmate must either have a job or be enrolled in a training program.  Some offer the opportunity for the pursuit of higher education while others allow inmates to do offsite work.

2. Low-Security Inmates

Low Security Inmates

Low-security prisons, or Federal Correctional Institutions, unlike minimum security prisons, have perimeters with double fences to contain their inmates.  They have dormitory-style housing.  Inmates have the freedom to take part in work programs, leaving the facility with supervision.  The staff-to-inmate ratio is not very high but is higher than a minimum-security facility.

Low-security inmates are those who have less than 20 years left to serve.  They are also considered to have less of a violence risk.  Sex offenders and higher-risk inmates are housed in low-security facilities.  While low-security prisoners may have a history of violence, anyone caught fighting, drinking, using drugs, or committing any other serious infraction will be sent to medium-security prisons.

These prisoners make up approximately 38 percent of all the prisoner population.  They see relatively little violence and little gang activity.

3. Medium Security Inmates

Medium security inmates are housed in facilities with reinforced perimeters. Electronic detection systems are typically installed on the fences.  Prisoners mainly live in cells.  There is a higher staff-to-inmate ratio than low and minimum security prisons.  There are also greater internal controls to keep the prisoners in line.

29 percent of inmates are medium-security inmates.  This type of inmate varies significantly in terms of prison culture.  Some medium-security prisons are very easy and laid back while others have a harder environment with gangs and regular violence.

Medium security inmates must have less than thirty years remaining on their sentence.  However, there is the occasional exception for lifers to be assigned to a medium-security prison due to a waiver by the regional director.

A prisoner’s history will not preclude him from placement in a medium-security prison.  He can have a history of in-prison alcohol and substance abuse, a lengthy disciplinary record, violence, and escape.

These prisoners often experience overcrowding.  If the criminal is a sex offender, he may also have a problem remaining in the general population in a medium-security prison.

4. Maximum Security Inmates

Maximum Security Prison

Maximum or high-security prisons are where the most violent and dangerous prisoners are housed.  These prisoners have far more guards than either minimum or medium security prisons and have very little freedom.  Each prisoner is considered to be high risk.

These prisoners are generally serving long sentences.  They are murderers, robbers, and kidnappers. Some of them have committed violent crimes while serving time and have been transferred to maximum security.

These inmates are considered to need the most security.  They pose a threat to other inmates, prison guards, and society in general.

These prisons are surrounded by high walls or strong fences.  There are electronic detection devices on many of these prisons’ exterior walls.  Powerful spotlights are used to illuminate the perimeter.

The prisoners live in cells.  They may either eat in their cells or a dining hall, depending on their situation.  They may live in multi-occupant cells or single-occupant cells.

Visits with family members are limited in duration and frequency.  When they do get to visit, they are separated by thick glass to prevent the transfer of contraband.

5. Supermax Inmates

Supermax Inmates - Types of Prisoners

Supermax prisons are facilities within maximum-security prisons.  This is a unit for the most dangerous and hardened types of prisoners.  It is also where hard to control inmates are kept.

Inmates who have shown violent behavior against staff members or other inmates are sent to supermax prisons.  Additionally, inmates who have had trouble following the rules in lower-security facilities may also be sent there.  These facilities may also house death row inmates or inmates from another special population.

Supermax inmates have little to no freedom.  They get very little time out of their cells and have almost no human interaction.  Solitary confinement can be as much as 23 hours a day.  These inmates are not allowed to do things together like eat, work, or exercise.  They are in permanent solitary confinement.

6. Juvenile Prisoners

Juvenile Prisoners

Juvenile prisoners are people who are under the age of 18 who have committed a crime.  They are not housed in the same facilities as adults and instead either have a facility or a program that is specifically for juveniles.

When a juvenile is incarcerated, there are several options.  One is home confinement or house arrest.  In this situation, a sturdy, waterproof ankle bracelet is placed on the juvenile.  Limitations are placed on the movement of the wearer and it is tracked by the justice system.

Alternatively, they may be placed with a relative or in a foster home, in a juvenile detention facility, or on probation.  On very rare occasions, a juvenile may be sent to an adult prison, depending on the specific circumstances of the case, such as murder.

Juveniles who are placed in a juvenile detention center will follow a structure similar to that of a traditional prison.  They will have similar sleeping, dining, and recreational arrangements.

7. Jail Inmates

Jail Inmates

Jail inmates are those who are being held for a relatively short period of time.  It is typically only while they are waiting for their trial or sentencing.  Some inmates who are convicted of a misdemeanor and have been given a sentence of one year or less may also serve this time in jail.  Jails are operated by local governments like cities and counties.

Jail inmates are all people who have been convicted of committing minor crimes.  These crimes include things like minor shoplifting.

8. State Prisoners

State prisoners are those who have committed state crimes.  These include assault, arson, robbery, and homicide.  Each state’s legislation is unique regarding the prison system.  The differences from state to state can be massive.

Inmates are generally kept in their locked cells during the day.  They do get some privileges like TV use and phone calls.  Their privileges depend on the prison they are in.

There are both minimum and maximum security state prisons.  Inmates in a maximum security facility will have most likely done something like committed a violent crime or killed someone.  These inmates are guarded by armed guards and are under heavy security measures.

9. Federal Prisoners

Federal prisoners are a type of prisoners who have committed federal crimes.  These include drug trafficking, identity theft, tax fraud, and child pornography.  Federal inmates are assigned to one of five levels of security depending on the severity of their crimes and their personal needs.

10. Private Correctional Institution Prisoners

When the government runs out of space in government-funded prisons, they contract out private, for-profit firms to operate prisons on their behalf.  11 percent of inmates are held in private correctional institutions.

Most inmates in a private facility have committed non-violent crimes.  They are not security risks and are more easily managed.

Private facilities are more expensive for the public.  They cost more per inmate than the public prisons cost.  There is some debate as to whether or not these institutions try to rehabilitate their inmates due to the money they make off them.

11. Prisoners of War

Prisoners of War - Types of Prisoners

Prisoners of war (POW) are soldiers who have been captured by the enemy or specific civilians to whom the status of prisoner of war is granted by international humanitarian law.  A POW is any person captured by a hostile power during a war.  Under a strict definition, it is applied only to soldiers but can be by broader definition applied to guerrillas, civilians who openly take up arms against an adversary or civilians associated with an armed force.

When the military travels into a warzone, several civilians follow, including the press.  News reporters have, in the past, been captured by the enemy and have been considered POWs.

12. Civilian Internees

A civilian internee is someone who has been interned during an international armed conflict or occupation.  The internee is still protected; however, they are subject to detention that is not criminal.  They are detained because of the seriousness of their threat or suspected threat against the authority detaining them.

This type of detention is a safeguard for the detaining authority.  Because of this, it cannot be used as a method of discipline.  As soon as the reasons for internment no longer exist, each interned person must be let go.  The decision to intern must be made on an individual basis.  Entire groups of civilians cannot be collectively interned.

13. Immigration Detainees

Immigration Detainees

The offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are the organizations that apprehend and hold immigrants who have committed or are under investigation for committing immigration violations.  ICE holding facilities are set up to hold immigrants for longer periods than CBP facilities.

ICE detainees may be families.  They are kept in family staging centers.  This allows them to remain as a family as they go through immigration proceedings.  These centers are operated in an open environment.  Families are given access to medical care, social workers, educational services, legal counsel, and recreational opportunities.

CBP detains noncitizens, including children.  These are people who have been apprehended at borders or have been deemed inadmissible at a border.  They are held in short-term holding facilities that are not designed for long-term stays.

14. Hostages

Hostages - Prisoner Types

Hostages are prisoners held as security for the fulfillment of an agreement.  They may also be held to act as a deterrent against an act of war.  They are seized by a criminal abductor.

Hostage situations can occur under many different circumstances.  Politically motivated terrorists may take hostages.  Criminals, like bank robbers, may take hostages to use as shields to escape.  Additional scenarios involve domestic incidents and the actions of the mentally deranged.

Hostage situations end when the hostage-taker gives up, attempts to flee, or is overtaken by tactical units.  Most of the time, the key to resolving the situation is negotiation.  Officers have to maintain control of the situation and set the stage for negotiation or tactical assault.

Hostages face an imminent threat to health and life.  They are almost always put in a situation where they are held and threatened with a weapon.

15. Political Prisoners

Among the types of prisoners are political prisoners.  A political prisoner is typically defined as a person who is arrested for his political activities.  This is especially true of those who go against or criticize their government.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is the first organization to approve criteria that specifically define what a political prisoner is.  According to these criteria, a person is a political prisoner if he meets any of the following:

  • His detention violates his basic human rights as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.  These rights include freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression.
  • The reasons behind the detention are purely political.
  • The length and/or conditions are longer or worse than the offense merits.
  • Compared to other prisoners, the detainee is held in a discriminatory manner.
  • The judicial proceedings related to the detention were unfair and connected to the political motives of the authorities involved.

Also according to PACE guidelines, individual country chairmen for PACE are authorized to make formal recommendations for people who should be declared political prisoners.  Amnesty International loosely uses the term political prisoner to describe anyone who has been jailed whose case has any political elements.

16. Slaves

Slaves (Types of Prisoners)

Slaves are prisoners of other people.  They are considered property and are deprived of most of the rights held by free people.  Several types of slavery are still prevalent in the world today.

  • Sex trafficking
  • Forced labor
  • Bonded labor
  • Domestic servitude

In sex trafficking, adults, as well as children, are kidnapped and taken control of.  These prisoners are forced to participate in sexual acts at the will of their owners.

Forced labor is more like traditional slavery.  It is the manipulation or coercion, whether physical or psychological, to force a person to work.  Once force is used to make the laborer work, it has become illegal.  The typically forced laborer prisoners are migrants and women.

Bonded labor is the coercion of a person to work to pay off a debt. The debt can be from former employment or through ancestral debts.  South Asia is where ancestral debt bondage slavery is most prevalent.

Individuals who work in a private residence and feel as though they cannot leave are victims of domestic servitude.  They may also face abuse.  They lack common benefits, which may include days off, appropriate compensation, and a life free from abuse.

17. Prisoners of Conscience

Prisoners of Conscience

A prisoner of conscience is someone who has been imprisoned for the peaceful expression of his beliefs.  They may have been imprisoned for their identities, such as their race, gender, or sexual orientation.  This imprisonment occurred even though the person did not use or advocate violence.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone, men and women alike, is entitled to all the rights and freedoms it declares, without discrimination of any kind.  However, governments imprison, torture, and sometimes execute people because of their views, what they believe, who they are, or how they have chosen to express themselves.  These kinds of prisoners include artists, bloggers, lawyers, labor leaders, community activists, journalists, and religious leaders.

18. Military Prisoners

The military has its own prisons for personnel who commit crimes.  Every branch of the military has its own prison facilities.  There are four main types of prisoners kept in these prisons.

The first type is military personnel who have committed a crime related to the military.  Typically these prisoners have been convicted of their crimes in a military court.

The second type of prisoner is an enemy of the state or an enemy combatant.  This is someone who poses a risk to national security.

Some criminals may be considered particularly dangerous for the country and may be detained in a military prison as well.  These may include terrorists or spies.  Because the judgment of this type of criminal is so complex, there is the risk that a prisoner of this type may not even be guilty when he is sent to prison.

Finally, military prisons can house prisoners of war.  However, there are strict rules about the treatment of these individuals and failure to follow these rules can get a country into a lot of trouble.

19. Psychiatric Prison Inmates

Psychiatric Prison Inmates

When someone breaks the law and is deemed to be mentally unfit, he is sent to a psychiatric prison.  These prisons are more like hospitals than traditional institutions of rehabilitation.  Prisoners here receive psychiatric help for their mental disorders.  Psychiatric prisons are intended to help people as opposed to just confining them as a means of punishment.

20. House Arrest Prisoners

House Arrest Prisoners

Concluding our list of the various types of prisoners are house arrest prisoners.  Sometimes due to overcrowding in the prison systems, a convicted criminal will not be incarcerated and will instead be sent home under house arrest.  In these situations, the prisoner will wear an ankle bracelet.  The bracelet ensures that the person stays at home or within predetermined areas, such as school or work.

Ankle bracelets are waterproof and sturdy.  They cannot be removed by the wearer.  Should the wearer try to tamper with it or attempt to remove it, the authorities will be notified.  Many ankle bracelets are monitored on a GPS.

Prisoners in this category are typically non-violent offenders.  They are not flight risks and they cooperate well with authorities.  They are in areas where the prisons are full or underfunded.

Most of the time those under house arrest will be allowed to work at a job.  It is considered a strong advantage of house arrest that they have the freedom to go to work.

To work, the prisoner must submit a schedule to the court or officer over his case.  This schedule has to include shift times and travel times.  Some things may be limited, including certain jobs, job locations, and shifts.  These all depend on the nature of the person’s offense and the terms of their house arrest.

While working, the person must wear an electronic monitoring device.  The device signals your location at all times so you cannot leave work or wander from your predetermined route without notifying authorities.

These prisoners are likely to have to cover costs associated with house arrest, including those associated with the electronic monitoring device.  In addition, there are regular court fees.  For these reasons, they should follow the rules and maintain employment.

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