In the United States, prisons are state or federal institutions designed to house individuals convicted of felony crimes. Prisons are governed through criminal justice systems, and in most countries, prisons are used to house people who have been sentenced by the criminal courts. This entry briefly explores the history of imprisonment and then proceeds to ask questions regarding what prisons are for, who is sent to prison, and what happens to people when they are imprisoned.


This history of the prison can be traced back to at least 1700 BCE and the Code of Hammurabi, Babylon. Ancient Egyptians used imprisonment as a means of detention, and prisons were also widely used in Ancient Greece, although primarily to house debtors. Imprisonment, in the form of penal ...

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