car·​cer·​al ˈkär-sə-rəl How to pronounce carceral (audio)
: of, relating to, or suggesting a jail or prison

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Carceral is a member of a small but imposing family: like its close relations incarcerate (meaning "to imprison") and incarceration (meaning "confinement in a jail or prison"), its ultimate source is the Latin word for "prison," carcer. All three words have been in use since the 16th century, and all three are more common today than they were a century ago. Carceral has always been the rarest of the group, but its use has increased significantly since the turn of the current century, most often within academic or legal contexts.

Examples of carceral in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Protesters pointed to policing’s disproportionate targeting of black and brown communities, its role in creating the world’s largest carceral state, and its increasing reliance on military weapons and tactics. Frederick Kaufman, Harper's Magazine, 26 Feb. 2024 There’s a poetic audacity that doesn’t quite sustain the film’s entire 106-minute running time, but Gayles has generally found a fresh way to tackle a familiar exploration of the carceral industry, rehabilitation and redemption. Daniel Fienberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 14 Mar. 2024 The dynamics of the Israeli carceral system for Palestinians have long undergirded anger over the broader nature of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post, 28 Nov. 2023 Through Peace’s story, Ejiofor explores the violent impact of the carceral state and the fraught interdependence of a father and his son. Lovia Gyarkye, The Hollywood Reporter, 22 Jan. 2024 The collective of artists determined to shift our reliance on carceral punishment through their media has become even more visible over the past few years. Abigail Glasgow, Harper's BAZAAR, 17 Aug. 2023 Other great reads What can a coloring book reveal about the absurdity of carceral logic? Ryan Fonseca, Los Angeles Times, 13 Sep. 2023 Raq Rarest is one of many pages that uploaded rappers’ brushes with the carceral state. Andre Gee, Rolling Stone, 31 Aug. 2023 Perhaps this is this what the Fourth of July means to Taylor: independence served with a dose of the carceral state, yet another B Side of American history—the Black Side. Vulture, 3 Oct. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'carceral.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Late Latin, from Latin carcer prison

First Known Use

1570, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of carceral was in 1570


Dictionary Entries Near carceral

Cite this Entry

“Carceral.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 18 Apr. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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