detention | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Corrections

Detention refers to the act of holding a person in custody or confinement, typically by law enforcement or a government entity.

Detention is a critical part of the criminal justice system. It involves temporarily holding a person in custody. This often happens when someone is suspected of committing a crime or is awaiting trial or other legal proceedings.

People can be detained for a variety of reasons. For example, they may be held because they are suspected of a crime and authorities need time to investigate. Alternatively, they could be detained because they are awaiting trial or they’ve been convicted and are serving a sentence.

Types of Detention

Different types of detention are used within the criminal justice system. These types often align with various stages of the legal process.


This is often the first type of detention a person experiences. When law enforcement suspects someone has committed a crime, they make an arrest. After an arrest, the person is often detained in a local jail or police station.

Pre-Trial Detention

After an arrest, if a court believes there’s a risk the person might not appear for trial or could pose a danger to others, pretrial detention is used. During this time, the person is held in jail until their court date.


Incarceration is a form of detention used for people convicted of crimes. They serve their sentence in prison or jail.

Rights and Protections of Detainees

While detained, individuals have certain rights and protections. These depend on the jurisdiction and the legal context, but some are almost universally recognized.

For example, detainees have the right to an attorney. This right ensures they can defend themselves properly in court. In many places, if a detainee can’t afford an attorney, one is provided for them.

Detainees also have the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. This means they should not be subjected to harsh conditions or treatment while in detention.

Due Process for Detainees

The concept of due process is central to the rights of detainees. This means they have the right to be treated fairly by the legal system. This includes the right to be informed of the charges against them, the right to a fair trial, and the right to appeal a conviction.

Due process also means that detainees can’t be held indefinitely without a trial. If they’re awaiting trial, they have the right to a bail hearing. At this hearing, a judge decides if they can be released until their trial date.

Challenges Faced in Detention

Despite these rights and protections, detainees often face challenges. They might be separated from their families, or they may struggle to understand the legal process. Overcrowding in detention facilities can also be a problem, leading to poor living conditions.

However, there are resources available to help detainees navigate these challenges. Legal aid services, advocacy groups, and other organizations work to protect the rights and well-being of detainees.

In conclusion, detention is a critical part of the criminal justice system. It involves holding a person in custody for various reasons, with different types of detention used at different stages of the legal process. Despite the challenges detainees may face, they have specific rights and protections and access to resources to help them navigate the system.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/16/2023

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.