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.
Prisons are state and federal correctional facilities that typically house offenders serving sentences of one year or more.
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  • Written By: Jeremy Laukkonen
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 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.


Discuss this Article

Post 3

Even though they are known as juvenile detention centers, that's actually an alternate term to use for the word prison. As a means not to scare minors, judges and prosecutors often use the term as often as possible. Despite being a detention center, consider it to be a prison for minors or young adults.

Post 2

When it comes to the crimes that one can commit, overall, I feel that depending on the offense and charge, one should either go to a correctional facility, or a prison. For example, prison facilities are normally filled with rapists and murderers. However, if someone committed one of the smaller crimes, such as shoplifting or driving under the influence, do they really deserve to be paired with those who are serving a life sentence?

Post 1

In my opinion, there's a difference between a correctional facility, and a prison, which the article brings up as well. Generally speaking, a correctional facility is when you're being held during a court trial. However, a prison is where you go when the trial is over, and you're found guilty. I feel like there needs to be a distinction between the two, as people might get confused if this wasn't the case.

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