From Justice Definitions Project

What is Detainee/ Detenu?

A detainee[1] is a person detained, especially a person held in pre-trial custody. Detenu[2] or detenue is the French term for a detained person adapted into the Indian legal jargon meaning a political prisoner. In other words, detenu refers to a person held in custody because of his or her political beliefs.

According to the Cambridge Dictionary[3], a detainee is a person officially ordered to stay in a prison or similar containment, especially for political reasons. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, prisoner[4] is a person kept under custody, confinement or involuntary restraint being deprived of liberty and movement.

Detention may be lawful or unlawful. Detainees have several rights subject to the laws governing the jurisdiction they fall under. Detained, imprisoned and arrested persons have certain basic and human rights irrespective of the jurisdiction such as the “UNHRC Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment”[5] adopted in 1988 by the UNGA Resolution 43/173; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted in 1966 by UNGA Resolution 2200A (XXI).[6]

“When the Police Officer or any other Authority or any individual holds or detain an individual or group of persons under the suspicion of an illegal act but does not charge them with the crime is known as the Detention.”[7] Hence, detention does not necessarily carry a charge as opposed to an arrest.

Statutory and Constitutional Rights of Detainees/ Detained persons

The rights of detainees are enumerated in the Constitution of India,1950 (CoI) and the Code of Criminal procedure,1973 (CrPC) as given below:

  1. Right to be informed (S. 50(1) of CrPC, A. 22 of CoI)
  2. Right to be released on bail (Ss. 50(2), 167 of CrPC, A. 21 CoI)
  3. Right to be presented before Magistrate within 24 hours (S. 56 of CrPC)
  4. Right to consult a legal practitioner (Ss. 41D, 303 of CrPC, A. 22(2) of CoI)
  5. Right to free legal aid (A. 39A of CoI)
  6. Right to be examined by a medical practitioner (S. 54(1) of CrPC)
  7. Procedure established by law must be followed (Ss. 46, 47, 48, 51, 55, 57, 58 of CrPC and various judgements)

Judicial Precedents

The Supreme Court in the landmark judgement of DK Basu v. State of West Bengal[8] laid down the guidelines to be followed in any and all cases of arrest and detention. Other verdicts of precedence related to detention are Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar[9] and Neelabati Bahera v. State of Orrisa[10].

Official Definition

According to the NCRB Prison Statistics India 2021[11], a detenue is any person held lawfully in custody while an Undertrial is a person who is currently on trial in a court of law. Both can be clubbed as detained individuals who are not yet convicted.

Appearance in Official Database

Prison Statistics India 2021[11]

As of the end of 2021, there were a total of 5,54,034 prisoners in India lodged in different jails across the nation. As on 31st December 2021, there were 1,22,852 reported convicts, 4,27,165 reported undertrial inmates, and 3,470 reported detenues, constituting 22.2%, 77.1%, and 0.6% of the prisoners respectively.

Similar terms

There are a few terms that have different meanings yet are sometimes used interchangeably or in reference to a detained person. These are: arrested, detained and imprisoned.[5]

  1. "Arrest" means the act of apprehending a person for the alleged commission of an offence or by the action of an authority;
  2. "Detained person" means any person deprived of personal liberty except as a result of conviction for an offence;
  3. "Imprisoned person" means any person deprived of personal liberty as a result of conviction for an offence;

The basic difference between arrest, detention and imprisonment is the cause of deprivation of liberty. If an accused is held in custody by an authorised official, it is an arrest. While if a convict is held in custody as a punishment of an offence, it is imprisonment or incarceration. However, when a person is deprived of liberty for any reason other than conviction for an offence, it is detention.


  1. Detainee.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.
  2. Détenu.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.
  3. Definition of detainee from the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press
  4. Prisoner.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Jun. 2023.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment | OHCHR
  6. CCPR
  7. Law on Arrest and Detention: Know your rights! | CJP
  8. 1997 (1) SCC 416
  9. (2014) 8 SCC 273
  10. AIR 1993 SCR 1960
  11. 11.0 11.1 Chapter 2 - PSI 2021.pdf (
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