Legal Dictionary


Legal Definition of inmate


Related terms

Definition of inmate


    From inn +‎ mate, or from in- +‎ mate.


inmate (plural inmates)

  1. A person confined to an institution such as a prison (as a convict) or hospital (as a patient)
  2. A person who occupies or dwells within a dwelling-house. The word came to be used to refer to temporary inhabitants such as guests in a hotel, students in an on-campus dormitory, patients in a hospital, or prisoners.

Usage notes

  • Perhaps around 1970, television journalists began to use the word as a euphemism for [["prisoner]]", and today perhaps many young people cannot remember that it ever had any other meaning.

Further reading

A prisoner, also commonly called an inmate, is anyone who is deprived of liberty against their will. This can be by confinement, captivity, or by forcible restraint. The term applies particularly to those on trial or serving a prison sentence.

English law

Prisoner is a legal term for a person who is imprisoned.

In section 1 of the Prison Security Act 1992, the word "prisoner" means any person for the time being in a prison as a result of any requirement imposed by a court or otherwise that he be detained in legal custody.

- History

Prisoner was a legal term for a person prosecuted for felony. It was not applicable to a person prosecuted for misdemeanour. The abolition of the distinction between felony and misdemeanour by section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1967 has rendered this use of the word obsolete.


Criminals are prisoners that are incarcerated under the legal system. In the United States, a federal inmate is a person convicted of violating a federal law, who is then incarcerated at a prison that exclusively houses similar criminals. The term most often applies to those convicted of a felony.

Detainees are prisoners. Certain governments use this term to refer to individuals held in custody. They are referred to detainees as it is a general term, and as such, does not require the subject to be classified and treated (under the law) as either a prisoner of war or a suspect or convict in criminal cases. It is generally defined with the broad definition: "someone held in custody".

Prisoners of war, also known as a POWs, are individuals incarcerated in relation to wars. He or she can be a member of the civilian population, or a captured soldier.

Political prisoners describe those imprisoned for participation or connection to political activity. Such inmates challenge the legitimacy of the detention.

Hostages are historically defined as prisoners held as security for the fulfillment of an agreement, or as a deterrent against an act of war. In modern times, it refers to someone who is seized by a criminal abductor.

Slaves are prisoners that are held captive for their use as labourers. Various methods have been used throughout history to deprive slaves of their liberty, including forcible restraint.

Other types of prisoner can include those under police arrest, house arrest, those in insane asylums, internment camps, and peoples restricted to a specific area such as Jewish people in the Warsaw ghetto.

United States

Both federal and state laws govern the rights of prisoners. Prisoners in the United States do not have full rights under the Constitution, however, they are protected by Amendment VIII which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. This Amendment ensures that prisoners are provided with a minimum standard of living. The Geneva Convention, a World Rights organization, states that prisoners may not do work against their will, and many more rules observed in many countries.


  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.


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2.     tampering
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6.     lex fori
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8.     lex situs
9.     lex causae
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