What is a House of Detention?

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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 05 March 2020
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A house of detention, more commonly known as a jail or prison, is a facility where those who have broken a society's laws are imprisoned for various lengths of time. A house of detention's characteristics such as its size, location and level of security are mainly determined by the type and number of prisoners incarcerated there. The relative level of freedom a prisoner will experience in a detention center depends on the crime he or she committed. In 58 countries, some houses of detention are authorized to carry out executions on behalf of the state. Prison reform is a controversial topic in many countries, including the United States.

A house of detention can come in many varieties. The smallest examples are generally juvenile correction centers. Many municipalities have combined these centers with juvenile court and other child service agencies the municipality provides. Though confined like adult prisoners, the population of a juvenile correction center is on average much smaller than an adult prison. Another main difference is that many of these centers provide an alternative learning center so inmates do not fall behind in the school work they will have to resume upon release.


A house of detention for adults varies much more wildly than juvenile corrections centers. Municipal jails are the lowest level, a place an inmate is held before and during a trial that determines his or her fate. After conviction, a judge or other official decides which level of security is appropriate considering the crime committed. Every country has varying levels of incarceration ranging from minimum to maximum, the latter always responsible for a country's most dangerous criminals.

A prisoner's experience at a house of detention depends on the level of security the correctional center provides. Minimum security prisons generally have the most freedom, and many prisoners work as physical laborers outside the prison walls. Though closely supervised by armed guards, these prisoners pose the lowest risk to society. Security measures increase and personal freedom decreases at medium and maximum security prisons. Even in these places, though, some prisoners, through good behavior, can earn extra privileges such as television and books.

In 58 countries worldwide, some houses of detention have the authority to carry out sentences of execution. Common methods are lethal injection, firing squad, hanging and gas. Even though two countries may use the same method of execution, what constitutes proper procedure is likely to vary considering national and cultural beliefs regarding execution.

Prison reform, especially in the United States, is a heated and controversial topic. One such complaint is that the privatization of the prison system allows for abuse of prisoners to go unnoticed. Overcrowding conditions in houses of detention worldwide have started a serious debate concerning long sentences for individuals such as non-violent drug offenders. Also, some studies have made the claim that modern prisons do little to rehabilitate prisoners, creating a cycle of incarceration that never ends. The debate is likely to continue for many years.



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