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Almost every modern state-level military operates some type of military prison system. Military prisons are used variously to house prisoners of war, enemy combatants, those whose freedom is deemed a national security risk by military or civilian 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 criminals within the military, and confinement-oriented, where captured enemies 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 military equivalent to the civilian jail, in the sense of "holding area" or "place of brief incarceration for petty crimes" is known colloquialy as the "guardhouse" (land and air forces) or brig (naval forces). US military forces currently maintain several regional prisoner holding facilities in the US; see List of U.S. Military Prisons for names and locations.
Many nations have a separate legal system for members of the armed forces; in the United States, this differential treatment seems to be suggested, but by no means mandated, by the Framers in the Fifth Amendment to its constitution. Members of the US armed forces are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and most military convicts convicted by court martial end up at the US Disciplinary Barracks or in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. 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.
Incarceration of Prisoners of War
The Geneva Conventions provides an international protocol defining minimum requirements and safeguards for prisoners of war. In reality, many of these protocols are often ignored, especially more recent ones mandating the payment of a daily wage.
Prisoners are often kept in ad-hoc camps near the battlefield, guarded by MP's (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. During World War II in Europe, on the Western front at least, conditions for prisoners were generally mild (though by no means pleasant) compared to those at the notorious Andersonville facility during the Civil War, although numerous abuses were recorded even then.
Particularly in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, military prisons and prison systems are highly controversial, at least in respect to the open-ended detention of foreigners without trial and/or prisoner abuse.
Military Prisons 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 POW's 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 to deal with the poverty and drudgery of captivity and to help select members escape to freedom while dealing with a hostile commandant who has planted a spy in their midst. Based on the play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, this movie is widely considered the break-out role for American actor William Holden. Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) features Paul Newman as an Army deserter and petty criminal who, with the encouragement of the athletic director at the above-mentioned Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks uses boxing as means to deal with his restless energy and, eventually, to escape his life of crime and poverty and marry the girl of his dreams. 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 Caine Mutiny (1954) starring Humphrey Bogart, Fred MacMurray and Van Johnson dealt with the military legal system and naval brigs during World War II.
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 that is riding on the same train that he is taking to his new post. The novel describes the pity that the young Marine feels for the unfortunate Portsmouth-bound sailors he has to guard, which include a small group of homosexuals, called "deviates" by the sergeant-of-the guard. Later in the same series, the corporal's own brother has a run-in with the military justice system for fighting and disorderly conduct.
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