Skip to content

The Different Types of Prisoners in the US

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in LawAugust 11, 2022

From state-run penitentiaries to hidden detainment camps, numerous facilities hold various types of prisoners worldwide. While all prisoners are being held against their will, each type comes with its own level of security, length of incarceration, and cause for detainment.


different types of prisoners

What Are the Different Types of Prisoners?

There are 20 different prisoner types, including:

  • Maximum Security:A classification reserved for the most violent offenders, maximum security inmates are considered a threat to the public, staff, and one another. These facilities have an incredibly high level of security, with highly reinforced perimeters, spotlights, and armed watchtowers.
  • Supermax:Within maximum security facilities are supermax prisons, specialized units for the most dangerous prisoners. If an inmate has shown that they are willing to harm others within the facility or are on death row, this is where they will be housed.
  • Minimum Security:Minimum security prisoners usually committed lower-level crimes. Most were non-violent offenders imprisoned for relatively minor infractions. Inmates at this level are kept in facilities with more limited security measures and often have shorter sentences.
  • Low Security:Low-security facilities have more containment procedures, with larger fenced-in structures and dormitory housing to facilitate easier mentoring. There are also more correctional officers, though not as many as you would have in higher security level facilities. Inmates in a low-security prison have more time on their sentences than minimum security prisoners, with most having 20 years or less left to serve.
  • Medium Security:Medium security inmates will have a higher level of associated safety precautions, with reinforced fencing and automatic detection systems to warn guards in case of an escape attempt. There are far more guards, and prisoners tend to be kept in one or two-man cells. Inmates in minimum security have 30 years or less left on their sentence, though sometimes those with longer sentences can be placed here if they have shown good behavior.
  • Juvenile:Juvenile prisoners are any offenders who committed their crimes while under the age of 18. These facilities are separate from adult prisons and will have specialized programs that inmates can participate in such as mandatory schooling.
  • County Jail:Prisoners in the county jail are usually only incarcerated for short periods or are waiting for a transfer to long-term facilities. These prisoners have often committed misdemeanors or other minor crimes, carrying sentences of under one year.
  • State:Individuals held in state prison have usually committed more significant crimes, like homicide, arson, robbery, or assault. These include minimum and maximum security prisons and can include a wide range of crimes and sentences.
  • Federal:Those who have committed federal crimes, including identity theft, tax fraud, and drug trafficking, will likely be held in federal prison. Like with state prisons, the security level varies and tends to hinge on whether the offender is violent or not.

different types of prisoners

  • Private Correctional Institution:Some prisoners are held in private, for-profit prisons that operate on behalf of local governments. These tend to house non-violent offenders and have lower levels of security (often to increase profit margins). Private facilities cost the public more and tend to have lower rehabilitation rates.
  • Prisoners of War:Separate from the prison system, prisoners of war are members of the military who a hostile power has captured during wartime. These individuals are protected by international law and must be appropriately treated for the capturing force to avoid being charged with war crimes.
  • Civilian Internees:If a civilian is captured during war or any other armed conflict, they may be detained as a civilian internee prisoner. While not quite the same as a prisoner of war, civilian internees have similar rights. They also must be released once the internment cause is no longer valid, making the length of their detainment less than that of a P.O.W.
  • Immigration Detainees:A person held by the Customs and Border Protection service or the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will be considered an immigration detainee prisoner. Individuals held by these agencies are usually under investigation for immigration violations and can include families and children.
  • Hostages:If someone is held against their will by a criminal, they are considered a hostage prisoner. Abductors may hold hostages for political gain or to use as a means to escape after a robbery. These instances of detainment usually end when the criminal decides to let the hostages go, the police free them, or the hostages escape on their own.
  • Political Prisoners:If a prisoner is held by a governing entity for political activities (like criticizing the government), they are considered a political prisoner. These detainees' rights are usually violated, and there is little merit to the reason for their incarceration.
  • Slaves:Enslaved people are prisoners held by others for forced labor, sex trafficking, or servitude. Those with enslaved people often break various laws or violate human rights, though the practice is still legal in some areas of the world. Enslaved people are often detained for life, only released if they escape or their captors allow them to go free.
  • Prisoners of Conscience:If someone is held for a specific trait, like their gender, sexual orientation, or race, they are a prisoner of conscience. These individuals have likely committed no crimes and are often peaceful.
  • Military:The military has its own prisoners where they will house offenders who committed crimes while under active service. These facilities can also accommodate enemies of the state, or in some cases, members of an opposing military force.
  • Psychiatric Inmates:If a court deems a person mentally unfit and therefore not appropriate for a traditional prison, they will be held in a psychiatric facility. These prisoners will receive treatment, as well as have varying levels of restrictions based on their perceived threat level.
  • House Arrest Prisoners:If a person is convicted of a low-level crime and doesn't have an extensive criminal history, they may be sentenced to house arrest. These prisoners are kept in their own homes using geo-location monitors. These monitors are usually held on the ankle and will notify authorities if the prisoner strays too far from their home.

In Most Cases, Finding a Prisoner Can Be Easy

For some prisoner types, the public may not be informed of their incarceration at all. This is often the case with political prisoners, P.O.W.’s, and hostages. But for many other prisoners, they can be located with a comprehensive inmate search. These searches allow you to see the full name of a prisoner, the location they are incarcerated, and their criminal history.

About the Author

Related Articles

News Article

Police Dash & Body Cams: What Are They Used For?

We live in the age of video with security cameras on every corner, and law enforcement has not escaped th... Read More

News Article

How Does a Federal Gun Background Check Work?

When someone purchases a gun through a licensed firearms dealer, a background check is required to mainta... Read More

News Article

What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison?

Do you know the difference between jail vs. prison? For most people, these terms are interchangeable a... Read More

News Article

United States Gun Laws Policy

Gun Control in the United States: an Overview The United States has two types of gun laws. Some are fe... Read More

News Article

In-Depth Look at The Top 5 Reasons for Arrests in the U.S.

Due to the diverse cultures that exist in the different regions of the United States, it can often be cha... Read More

Uncover Hidden Information About Anyone: