car·​cer·​al | \ ˈkär-sə-rəl How to pronounce carceral (audio) \

Definition of carceral

: of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison

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Describing a painting of John Howard visiting a prison in 1787, Robert Hughes wrote that Howard was "the pioneer of English carceral reform" (Time Magazine, November 11, 1985). Prison reform might be the more common phrase, but the use of carceral was by no means unprecedented. Vladimir Nabokov, in his inimitable prose, described a prison scene in Invitation to a Beheading thusly: "The door opened, whining, rattling and groaning in keeping with all the rules of carceral counterpoint." An adjective borrowed directly from Late Latin, carceral appeared shortly after incarcerate ("to imprison"), which first showed up in English around the mid-1500s; they're both ultimately from carcer, Latin for "prison."

Examples of carceral in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Americans are very curious about the carceral state that has sprung up around them, Peter Holley reports: Collectively, the four most popular prison channels on YouTube have more than 2.1 million subscribers and about 342 million page views. Casey Newton, The Verge, "With an antitrust case looming, Apple’s new login tool is tempting fate," 5 June 2019 This sick dynamic has its origins in the American Plan, and other early-20th century carceral regimes. Scott Stern, Teen Vogue, "How Capitalism Helped to Fuel the Mass Incarceration of Women," 25 June 2018 Local police and social workers emphasize that no anti-gang approach can be solely carceral; that education, mental health care and social intervention are just as important to present teenagers with appealing alternatives to gang membership. Dara Lind, Vox, "MS-13, explained," 21 May 2018 Kushner has spoken in interviews about the relationships and visits that contributed to her extensive knowledge of the carceral system and the rising number of women it confines each year. Idra Novey,, "Rachel Kushner's new novel, 'The Mars Room,' is devastating," 26 Apr. 2018 This Black History Month, The Root, in partnership with Drug Policy Alliance, takes a deep look at why the war on drugs cannot be divorced from generational poverty, the carceral state and white supremacy. Kirsten West Savali, The Root, "The Hood Incubator: Oakland, Calif., Organization Empowers Black Communities to Take Ownership of Cannabis Industry," 22 Feb. 2018 The victory also continued a slow but growing national trend of prosecutorial candidates running on platforms to rethink and scale back tough-on-crime policies that have contributed to the bloated carceral population. John Legend, The Root, "The Top Criminal Justice Wins of 2017," 25 Dec. 2017 Although 13 states—including carceral strongholds like Texas and Arkansas—eliminated juvenile life without parole after Miller, the Louisiana Legislature didn’t go that far. Carimah Townes, Slate Magazine, "Justice Scuttled," 25 May 2017 While our carceral institutions are, at least, officially opposed to subjecting prisoners to rape, the same cannot be said for torture. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "‘Sheriff Joe’ and Everyday American Authoritarianism," 30 Aug. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'carceral.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of carceral

1570, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for carceral

Late Latin, from Latin carcer prison

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Last Updated

12 Jun 2019

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The first known use of carceral was in 1570

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