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What is Protective Custody?

Autumn Rivers
Updated May 16, 2024
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Any time a person is in danger of being harmed by others, protective custody may at least be a temporary solution. Though it is often associated with prisoners, it can also apply to children who have been removed from a dangerous situation, as well as witnesses to a crime. In most cases, this person is separated from the potential threat, placed into confinement either briefly or for several years.

In the case of imprisonment, some types of inmates are particularly susceptible to attack by other inmates, putting their safety in jeopardy. Examples of prisoners likely to be placed into prison protective custody include police officers, homosexuals, child abusers, pedophiles, those who have murdered a child, and members of gangs. If such prisoners are not protected in some way during their stay, they run a higher risk of being bullied, sexually abused, beaten frequently, or even killed by other inmates. For this reason, some prisoners are separated from others, typically through solitary confinement, in which they must stay alone in their cell for about 23 hours per day.

Sometimes, the threat comes from outside the prison, as inmates in contact with someone from the outside may be instructed to harass or murder a fellow prisoner. This appears to occur most frequently between rival gang members. For this reason, when gang members are imprisoned, especially if they are well-known, they are usually separated from other inmates. In some cases, though, it is possible to house the inmate in question in a different building or area of the prison if the primary threat comes from a person who can be identified.

Witnesses to major crimes are also sometimes offered protective custody. This is typically only true when the perpetrator of the crime is either unknown or has not yet been arrested, and usually only when the crime is particularly violent. If the suspect would benefit from the death of the witness and appears to know his or her identity, there could be a case for taking that witness into custody for his or her protection. In such cases, the custody may be in some other location, such as a closely watched hotel room or other facility.

Children who are harmed or in dangerous situations are also sometimes placed into custody, which is usually in the form of foster care. This often makes them wards of the state, and they are kept there until a more permanent solution arises, such as a new family or an improvement of the original situation. Women who have been battered or stalked can also sometimes find safety in this type of arrangement, whether they have children or not.

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Autumn Rivers
By Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for MyLawQuestions, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
Discussion Comments
By anon927845 — On Jan 26, 2014

I feel like there is no protective custody for abused and battered women anymore. Asking for help landed me in jail. Then, it got worse. Hopefully this will end, but not in death.

By DylanB — On Nov 25, 2012

I think it's great that battered women have the option of seeking protective custody. I've often wondered what abused women who have no place else to go can do to get away from their abusive spouses. It's good that there are protective custody laws that help them out.

By wavy58 — On Nov 25, 2012

@seag47 – This type of protective custody is dangerous for the prisoner, though it may protect him from other inmates. It can cause paranoia, obsessive thinking, and a whole range of mental disorders.

Some prisoners in solitary confinement are only let out for an hour a day, and that is for exercise. They even have to eat their meals in their cells all alone.

I'm not sure if this applies for those in solitary for their own protection, but if solitary is being used as a punishment, then prisoners can't even have reading material or anything to keep them busy while they are in there. That just seems like mental torture to me.

By seag47 — On Nov 25, 2012

I understand that solitary confinement is a type of custody designed to be protective, but isn't it also a form of torture? I mean, if you have to be all alone for 23 hours every day, aren't you at a high risk of going crazy or committing suicide?

By kylee07drg — On Nov 24, 2012

I've always associated protective custody with children. I didn't realize that prisoners were entitled to it, as well.

I had a friend when I was little who was obviously being beaten at home. He would come over to play, and I would see the bruises all over his body. He seemed terrified of being touched.

My parents saw the bruises, too, and they called the police. The boy got taken into protective custody, and he wound up being adopted by someone else I knew. It took years of therapy for him to come out of his shell, but he eventually managed to join society and even make new friends.

Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers
Autumn Rivers, a talented writer for MyLawQuestions, holds a B.A. in Journalism from Arizona State University. Her background in journalism helps her create well-researched and engaging content, providing readers with valuable insights and information on a variety of subjects.
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