What Are Inmates?

Inmates are sometimes required to perform physical labor jobs as part of a work-release program.
Inmates can send and receive mail, although it is typically checked over by law enforcement.
The law determines the length of an inmates sentence.
People who are being held in jail are called inmates.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 December 2014
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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.


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