What Is a Correctional Facility?

San Quentin State Prison in California.
Alcatraz, a prison on an island in San Francisco Bay that has been closed since 1963.
A prison.
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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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A correctional facility is the building that many criminal justice systems use to detain offenders. These facilities may hold accused people prior to trial, convicted criminals, juvenile offenders, and other types of individuals. Some correctional facilities are intended to reform or otherwise prepare offenders for a successful reintegration into society, while others simply detain criminals until they can be released. Types of correctional facilities include jails, prisons, and juvenile detention centers. Each country has its own approach to the criminal justice system and uses correctional facilities differently.

The modern concept of the correctional facility did not appear until the 19th century in Britain. Prior to this time, detention facilities were typically only temporary. Instead of detaining criminals for extended periods of time, corporal or capital punishments were often administered instead. Individuals were sometimes used as galley slaves or sent to penal colonies as well. Long term incarceration was typically limited to debtor's prison, where people were sent when they could not pay their bills.


In the United States, a correctional facility that is operated by a county or local jurisdiction is typically referred to as a jail. These facilities can house people as they await trial, and typically also contain criminals that are serving sentences that are less than a year long. Prison usually refers to a type of correctional facility that is state or federally operated. These facilities can also contain people that are awaiting trial at state or federal levels, in addition to convicted criminals that are serving sentences longer than a year.

The federal prison system in the US has a more complex system of facilities. Under this system, a low security facility is often called a prison camp. Other types include correctional institutions and penitentiaries, which offer higher security. Some of these facilities have a focus on rehabilitation, though others lack the necessary staff or resources. It is sometimes possible to voluntarily study for and gain a general education development (GED) certificate or college degree while incarcerated at a correctional facility.

In addition to traditional correction facilities, a number of specialized systems also exist in many places. Militaries often maintain their own codes of justice and may imprison offenders in special military prisons. Juvenile detention facilities are often used as well to separate incarcerated minors from adults. The cutoff between juvenile detention and a traditional correctional facility is typically the age of majority, though many violent crimes allow younger teenagers to be convicted as adults. Some countries also have special psychiatric hospitals to avoid grouping mentally ill offenders in with general prison populations.


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