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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.