A military prison is a prison operated by the military. Military prisons are used variously to house prisoners of war, unlawful combatants, those whose freedom is deemed a national security risk by the military or national authorities, and members of the military found guilty of a serious crime. Thus, military prisons are of two types: penal, for punishing and attempting to reform members of the military who have committed an offense, and confinement-oriented, where captured enemy combatants are confined for military reasons until hostilities cease.
Most militaries have some sort of military police unit operating at the divisional level or below to perform many of the same functions as civilian police, from traffic-control to the arrest of violent offenders and the supervision of detainees and prisoners-of-war.
The Australian Defence Force currently has a single prison, the Defence Force Correctional Establishment at Holsworthy Barracks in Sydney. This prison houses military personnel sentenced to between 14 days to two years imprisonment. In addition, there are 15 detention centres located within military bases across Australia.
The Canadian Forces have one military prison, the Canadian Forces Service Prison and Detention Barracks (CFSPDB) (colloquially known as Club Ed), located at Canadian Forces Base Edmonton. Canadian Forces personnel who are convicted by military courts and receive a sentence of 14 days or more are incarcerated at CFSPDB. Men, although in the same prison, are kept separate from women. The prison is maintained and controlled by the Canadian Forces Military Police, although NCOs from various branches of the Canadian Forces serve at the prison as staff. Service personnel who are convicted of less serious offences are considered to be in "detention", and undergo a strict military routine aimed at rehabilitation for their return to regular military service, whereas personnel convicted of more serious offences are considered to be in "prison" and upon completion of their sentence they are released from the military. Serious offenders with sentences longer than two years are transferred to the Canadian federal prison system after serving 729 days, to complete their sentence in the civilian prison system, followed by release from the Canadian Forces. Any service personnel serving a sentence of 14 days or less are held in local base Military Police Detachment cells at the various Canadian Forces Bases within Canada.
In Italy only one military jail now exists: the Santa Maria Capua Vetere. Under Italian law, only those in government service (Army, Navy, Air Force, Guardia di Finanza and Carabinieri) who are under investigation in front of a military court or are sentenced to the penalty of Reclusione Militare by a military or civil court are held there. Those serving in the police corps (Polizia di Stato, Polizia Penitenziaria, Corpo Forestale dello Stato) are also held in military jail.
In Switzerland there are no special military prisons. Sentences are to be served in civilian prisons.
The United Kingdom has one military correctional facility. (It has no establishments that would be considered prisons.) The Military Corrective Training Centre (colloquially known as the Glasshouse after the former military prison in Aldershot), in the town of Colchester, is where non-commissioned servicemen and women who are convicted by military courts and sentenced to more than 28 days, but less than three years, will be incarcerated. Women, although in the same prison, are kept separate from men. The facility is maintained and controlled by the British Army's Military Provost Staff (Adjutant General's Corps). More serious offenders with longer sentences are transferred to HM Prison Service as part of their dishonourable discharge. There are three categories of prisoner:
- Those from the Royal Navy (RN), Royal Marines (RM), British Army, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) who are to remain in the Services after sentence and will serve their detention in A Company.
- Those from the RN, RM, British Army and RAF who are to be discharged after their sentence and will serve their detention in D Company.
- Those held in Military custody awaiting the outcome of an investigation, or awaiting HM Prison or YOI placement.
The United States military's equivalent to the county jail, in the sense of "holding area" or "place of brief incarceration for petty crimes," is known colloquially as the guardhouse or stockade by the army and air forces and the brig by naval and marine forces. U.S. military forces currently maintain several regional prisoner holding facilities in the U.S.; see list of U.S. military prisons for names and locations.
In the United States, differential treatment seems to be suggested, but by no means mandated, by the Founding Fathers in the Fifth Amendment to its constitution. Members of the U.S. armed forces are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Male non-commissioned military personnel convicted by courts martial and sentenced to five or more years' confinement, male commissioned officers and male prisoners convicted of offenses related to national security end up at the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Enlisted male military convicts who received sentences of less than five years are confined at various regional confinement facilities operated by the U.S. Military both in the continental United States and abroad. All female military personnel convicted of felonies serve their sentences at the Naval Consolidated Brig, Miramar located at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego, California. In former times, criminals in the naval services, including those convicted of sodomy, were sent to the once-infamous Portsmouth Naval Prison, which was closed in 1974.
Today’s American military prison systems are designed to house criminals who commit an offense while holding the job title of being in a branch of the military. Military prisons have a tier system that is based on the length of a prisoner’s sentence. For instance, the Navy uses three levels of incarceration. Tier I prisoners have been sentenced up to one year and are housed at a waterfront brig, an afloat brig, correctional custody units (CCU) and pre-trial confinement facilities Tier II prisoners are transferred to one of the Navy’s two consolidated brigs with sentences of up to 10 years. Lastly, female prisoners serve their time apart from men at a facility called NAVCONBRIG Miramar to better facilitate the rehabilitative process; while military prisoners with sentences over 10 years or who are sentenced to death are held at the U.S. disciplinary barracks. Military prisons are a little different from typical American prisons because American prisons are characterized by the type of security they have. These different levels of security have to do with the type of criminals in the facility. Minimum security facilities typically have criminals convicted of white collar crimes, or low-level drug offenses, while medium and maximum-security prisons house more serious offenders that committed more violent crimes.
Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics breaks down military prisoners by five different military branches. This data showed 829 prisoners from the army, 396 prisoners from the marine corps, 268 prisoners from the navy, 21 prisoners from the coast guard, and 380 prisoners from the air force. 44 of these prisoners were officers in the military. A significant number of these prisoners are males, with only 54 being female. A plurality were Caucasian, followed by African American and Hispanics. Most of the crimes committed by military prisoners are violent offenses such as murder and rape. The next most frequent crime committed by military prisoners are drug offenses and then property offenses such as theft. There are a small percentage of other crimes committed, such as public order offenses and military offenses. Military offense examples are disrespect, insubordination, and false offense statements. The most recent data from 2007 of military prisoners has shown a small drop from 1,944 prisoners in 2006 to 1,794 in 2007.
Incarceration of prisoners of war
The Geneva Conventions provides an international protocol defining minimum requirements and safeguards for prisoners of war.
Prisoners are often kept in ad hoc camps near the battlefield, guarded by military police until they can be transferred to more permanent barracks for the duration of the conflict.
Treatment of prisoners-of-war has varied from age to age and nation to nation, the quality of conditions for prisoners often linked with the intensity of the conflict and the resources of the warring parties.
In popular culture
Military prisons and the treatment of military prisoners have often figured prominently in modern literature, cinema and even politics. In the 19th century, written accounts of the barbaric treatment accorded prisoners on both sides during the Napoleonic and Crimean wars helped lead to the founding of the Red Cross and the promulgation of the Geneva Conventions.
There are numerous examples of 20th and 21st-century cinema dealing with military prisons, including Hart's War (2002), starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell as American POWs in a German prison camp, continuing in a cinematic vein begun by Stalag 17 (1953). Stalag 17 portrays the struggles of a group of American airmen in a German Luftwaffe prison and is based on the play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski. The Dirty Dozen (1967) features General Worden (Ernest Borgnine) ordering Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) to recruit, train, and arm 12 convicted felons sentenced to the death penalty or lengthy sentences to parachute into Occupied France prior to D-Day to assassinate German generals and their staff at a chalet used as a rest centre. The Caine Mutiny (1954) starring Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson dealt with the military legal system during World War II.
The Hill (1965) starring Sean Connery was set in a British military penal camp in North Africa during World War II. The Great Escape (1963), starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, Richard Attenborough, details the true-life adventures of a mixed group of Allied prisoners attempting to escape from a German Luftwaffe stalag.
Andersonville (1996) and The Andersonville Trial (1970), both TV movies, dealt with the conditions at Andersonville Prison and its aftermath. George C. Scott directed and starred in the latter, along with William Shatner; the movie was based on an earlier play by Saul Levitt, who worked on The Untouchables TV series. The Last Castle (2001) shows Robert Redford as an important US Army General who is sent to a military prison after contradicting a direct order given by the Commander-in-Chief. Once in prison, he begins to gather the support of inmates, much to the despair of the director of the facility, a Colonel played by James Gandolfini who dislikes losing his authority to a convicted felon.
Some of the late-20th-century military novels of American writer W.E.B. Griffin make mention of the former Portsmouth Naval Prison facility. In Semper Fi, Book I in The Corps series, the main character, Cpl. Ken McCoy, finds himself assigned to a prisoner detail, which is riding on the same civilian train that McCoy is taking to his new post.
The Last Detail, 1973, starring Jack Nicholson and Otis Young, is a film that tells the story of two sailors assigned to a temporary detail transporting a prisoner (Randy Quaid) from Norfolk to Portsmouth to begin serving a sentence for theft.
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- "brig". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)