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What is Preventive Detention?

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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 07 December 2016
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Some governments will lock up, or incarcerate, some people before they have committed or been charged with a crime. This is known as preventive detention. While many countries around the world engage in this act to prevent terrorists and other threats to society from causing harm, other countries, especially those ruled by dictators, use preventive detention with little or no concern for human rights.

Preventive detention should not be confused with another similar term, detention of suspects. Detention of a suspect usually occurs either following a criminal charge, or just before charging a suspect with a crime. Preventive detention allows law enforcement officials to imprison anyone who they have good reason to believe may commit a crime.

Many democracies around the world use preventive detention to stop possible terrorist attacks. For example, following the a number of terrorist bombings, the British government allowed law enforcement officials to detain possible terrorists for up to 14 days. In 2006, that limit it was extended to 28 days, and in 2008, it was extended again, this time to 42 days. After the specified amount of time has passed, the prisoners must either be charged with a crime or released.

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In the United States, certain amendments to the Constitution guarantee an incarcerated person's rights. Under these amendments, a person can not be detained without legal representation, or be held without being charged with a crime. In 2009, however, United States President Barack Obama began discussing the possibility of creating a preventive detention system that could hold terrorists indefinitely without trial. This proposed system was meant to keep dangerous prisoners from Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp in captivity after it was shut down, but this idea stirred up a number of human rights advocates.

Many of these advocates also believe that some other countries use preventive detention to strip individuals of their human rights. For example, in Costa Rica a person can be detained for up to a year with no criminal charge or trial. The actual length of time that an individual is detained, however, can be as long as three years.

The Internal Security Act of 1960 in Malaysia is another preventive detention law that many human rights groups are trying to abolish. Under this law, officials can arrest and detain any individual who they deem is a threat or a possible criminal. Two years is supposed to be the maximum amount of time that these prisoners can be held, but many times, this preventive sentence is extended indefinitely.

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