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Inside view of Presidio modelo, a prison on an island, in Cuba
The prison at a police station in Germany

A prison (also called a jail or gaol) is a building where convicted criminals are held and incarcinated. Some prisoners are serving long terms or life sentence while some are waiting for trial. Those with short terms are probably locked up in a jail rather than prison.

Prisons are run by the government. Other words for prison include "penitentiary", "jail" or "gaol" (pronounced like "jail"), and "correctional facility".There are also different types of prison or jail which are satellite camp, normal prison, special prison for death rows and maximum security prison. Inmates are forced to wear prison uniform or fatigue with different bright colours from orange, blue, green and more depend on every prison. For instance, some prisoners which are prison workers might wear orange fatigue or some prisoner with bad criminal records wear red uniform and vice versa.

A person who has been charged with a crime, but has not yet been convicted for it in a court, may be sent to prison if:

  • the police have arrested the person and are deciding whether to send them to court,
  • the court thinks that the person may not come to their trial,
  • the court thinks that the person may be a danger to the community, or
  • the court has asked for bail but the person cannot pay the amount.

People held in prisons are called inmates or prisoners. The word convicts may also be used, but only if they have been sentenced to prison because of a crime.

People who have been sentenced to death are also kept in prison until their execution.

In some countries, prisons are also used for political prisoners (people who disagree with the country's leader or government). In times of war, prisoners of war may also be held in prisons.

Prison buildings and facilities

Presidio modelo, from outside

Male and female inmates are usually kept in separate locations or in separate prisons. Prisons are usually surrounded by walls and gates. There are usually many locked gates inside the prison to control the inmates.

The inmates sleep in small locked rooms called cells. Cells have a bunk bed, a toilet, and a sink. Inmates are allowed to leave their cell every day for exercise. Some inmates work in the prison during the day, either in a factory or doing cooking or cleaning. Law enforcement officers called prison guards watch the inmates. The manager of a prison is called the warden.

Prisons usually also include other buildings and facilities, such as a chapel, a library, an exercise yard, a gymnasium, an infirmary (small hospital), visiting rooms (for visits from family and lawyers), kitchens, and accommodation for prison staff.

The United Nations made the "Standard Minimum Rule" for human treatment for prisoners in 1955.[1] Also the Article 10 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also affirm the treatment with humanity for them in prison.

Prisons for young people

There are special prisons for people under the age of 18 who commit crimes. These inmates are called young offenders or offenders.


Prisons are a controversial topic that people have different views about.

  • People who think that we should have prisons say that removing people who commit crimes from society prevents them from committing more crimes and punishes them for their behavior. They also say that putting people in prison may also prevent others who are likely to commit similar crimes from committing them.
  • People who think that we should not put people in prisons say that being put in prison makes people more violent and angry. People who commit minor crimes that are sent to prison meet violent criminals. As well, when people are sent to prison, they cannot see their family or children, which can cause problems for their family. Sometimes people are put in prison who have done nothing wrong. An American theory that is critical of prisons is called the prison industrial complex. People who believe in the prison industrial complex think that private prison companies want lots of people to be put in prison in order to make money.

Number of people in prison

As of 2006, there are currently nine million people in prison in the world. The United States currently has the most people in prison; it has more than 2 million people in prison. In 2002, both Russia and China also had over 1 million people in prison. In 2003, the United Kingdom had 73,000 people in prison; France and Germany had a similar number of people in prison.

Famous prisons in history

  • Alcatraz, San Francisco (historical)
  • Attica Correctional Facility, Attica, New York, scene of the most infamous prison riot in United States history
  • The Bastille, Paris, France (historical) In French
  • Devil's Island French Guiana (historical)
  • Leavenworth, Kansas, site of a federal prison and the military's primary prison, the United States Disciplinary Barracks.
  • Rikers Island, New York City, US (since 1884)
  • Sing Sing Correctional Facility, Ossining, New York, U.S. (since 1828)
  • The Tower of London, London, England (historical)

Cultural references to prisons and prison life

There are many books and poems about prisons or prison life, such as The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, père and The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde.

There are also movies that depict prison life, including:

There have also been television programs, such as Prisoner: Cell Block H (1979–1986), Prison Break (2005–2009), Lockup (2005 - present) and Lockdown: Americas Hardest Prisons (2006 - present). A current TV show about a women's prison is Orange Is the New Black.

Related pages

  • County jail is a term used for local administrative security prisons that are in each county of the United States and for those awaiting trial as well those serving short sentences. Some of these institutions can also hold sentenced maximum security immates and some who are awaiting transport to state prisons if they're convicted of crimes.
  • state prisons is a term used for prisons that are in each state of the United States and for criminals convicted of crimes that land them in these institutions.
  • federal prison is a term for special prisons that are in each state of the United States, run by the Federal Bureau Of Prisons and for criminals who committed federal crimes that land them in these institutuions.
  • military prisons is a term for special prisons that are in each state of the United States, run by the miltary and for criminals who are convicted of war crimes that land them in these institutions.


  1. Standard Minimum Rule for the Treatment of Prisoners
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison, New York: Random House 1975.