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What are Inmates?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Inmates are people who are held in an institution such as a prison or jail. They may have committed crimes, been captured in war, or been denied bail, leading to detainment until they can be tried in a court of law. There are international laws that apply to the treatment of inmates in certain situations and individual nations also have laws that define the rights of people kept in their jails and prisons.

Historically, this term was used in general to describe people living in institutions established for the long term housing of people. This included group homes, hospitals, and similar institutions. Today, it is primarily used in reference to people being held in connection with criminal activity or suspected criminal activity. Inmates who are being held in wartime as prisoners of war may also be known as internees.

In the case of inmates being held in prisons and jails, the law in the country where an inmate is determines how that individual will be treated. Inmates may have a number of legal rights including the right to trial, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to access an attorney. The government must also provide adequate food, water, and medical care. Inmates who are foreign nationals must be provided with access to their embassies.

Prisoners of war are protected by international law. Nations that take prisoners in wartime must care for them, provide their home nations with information about them, and comply with other international laws which are designed to protect internees. While it is generally recognized that nations are within their rights to take and hold prisoners of war, these inmates cannot be abused and when the hostilities are over, they must be released.

Contact with the outside is supervised and usually limited. People can receive mail addressed to them at the institutions where they live, although this mail may be subject to search before it is delivered. Members of the public who wish to visit inmates can make arrangements ahead of time to be present on an authorized visiting day.

Inmates are supervised and cared for by officials like guards and wardens. These officials are responsible for ensuring that the rights of the people in their care are protected while their environment is kept safe and healthy. They also participate in the transfers of inmates and the supervision of people on work crews outside the detention facility. In order to work in a prison or jail, it is usually necessary to have training in criminal justice and pass a background check.

MyLawQuestions is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By Melonlity — On Dec 27, 2014

@Logicfest -- I don't know if anyone learns any marketable skills by stamping out license plates, but I do agree that putting criminals to work is a good way to make them pay off their debts to society.

As long as they aren't put in dangerous situations or forced to work ridiculously long hours, then there is nothing wrong with putting prisoners to work. Taxpayers spend a lot of money feeding, clothing and housing prisoners, so why not get something for that investment?

By Logicfest — On Dec 26, 2014

@Vincenzo -- I don't see a problem with that. Society needs license plates and such, and if someone commits a crime and winds up in jail there in no problem with making them pay their debt to society in a very concrete, useful way.

Besides, working is a way some convicts can work off the restitution they owe to victims of their crimes. Others can learn skills that can come in handy when they get released and to to work in the real world. If they have marketable skills, then perhaps they won't turn back to crime and wind up in jail.

In a lot of ways, everyone involved is better off when criminals are put to work. So, why not?

By Vincenzo — On Dec 26, 2014

In my state there are a lot of prisoners going to work stamping out license plates, putting advertising inserts together for newspapers and that kind of thing. I wonder how fair it is to make prisoners go to work and all.

Since they are in jail, does that mean it is OK to use them as a cheap labor force?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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