penitentiary

1 of 2

noun

pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry ˌpe-nə-ˈten(t)-sh(ə-)rē How to pronounce penitentiary (audio)
plural penitentiaries
1
a
: an officer in some Roman Catholic dioceses vested with power from the bishop to deal with cases of a nature normally handled only by the bishop
b
capitalized : a cardinal presiding over a tribunal of the Roman curia (see curia sense 3) concerned with dispensations (see dispensation sense 2) and indulgences
2
: a public institution in which offenders against the law are confined for detention or punishment
specifically : a state or federal prison in the U.S.
a federal penitentiary in Virginia

penitentiary

2 of 2

adjective

pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry ˌpe-nə-ˈten(t)-sh(ə-)rē How to pronounce penitentiary (audio)
 sense 1 also  -ˈten(t)-shē-ˌer-ē
1
2
: of, relating to, or incurring confinement in a penitentiary

Example Sentences

Noun a sentence in the state penitentiary for robbery
Recent Examples on the Web
Noun
The Paramount+ series, premiering Nov. 13, begins with Dwight leaving the penitentiary. Darren Franich, EW.com, 11 Nov. 2022 The ultimate penalty was meted out to him in a rural penitentiary on the evening of Nov. 10, 2009, in a stark, concrete blockhouse called L Unit, as Meyers’s brother, Bob Meyers, looked on. Michael E. Ruane, Washington Post, 1 Oct. 2022 He was convicted on all counts and spent roughly four years inside Cipinang, a large Indonesian penitentiary on the edge of Jakarta. Scott Johnson, The Hollywood Reporter, 28 Sep. 2022 The Tucson facility houses 266 inmates, both male and female, as part of a larger complex that includes a high-security penitentiary and a minimum-security satellite camp. Gretchen Ehlke, ajc, 25 Aug. 2022 After the attack, Bulger was transferred to the high-security prison at the Coleman penitentiary complex in central Florida. Hartford Courant, 18 Aug. 2022 The penitentiary was built of brick and Wissahickon schist, a grayish black local stone. Cantor Glenn Sherman, Sun Sentinel, 29 July 2022 Current and former employees described the Atlanta penitentiary as among the worst federal facilities in the country, and said its collapse was well known to the bureau’s top leaders. New York Times, 26 July 2022 Lukiškės Prison, a penitentiary that’s also making headlines this week for political art involving Vladimir Putin. Andy Meek, BGR, 14 July 2022
Adjective
Yakovleva explains that Griner will now be kept in a central prison for convicts until a place is found for her in the overcrowded penitentiary system. Juliet Butler, Peoplemag, 11 Nov. 2022 Worthy welcomed the jump from taking penitentiary chances to making legitimate from music. Max Bell, SPIN, 30 Aug. 2022 The premise is alright: The titular Spiderhead is a penitentiary wing that counts among its wards a guy named Jeff, played by Miles Teller, and a woman named Lizzy, played by Jurnee Smollett. K. Austin Collins, Rolling Stone, 20 June 2022 Hundreds of thousands of people work in the federal penitentiary system and not all of them love Putin. Amy Kellogg, Fox News, 14 Aug. 2022 Proponents of the moratorium on new prisons slammed the report’s findings, saying that a new women’s penitentiary undercuts efforts to reduce incarceration in favor of treatment and rehabilitation. Alexander Thompson, BostonGlobe.com, 26 June 2022 The Melekhovo facility has been the subject of multiple media investigations revealing brutality in the Russian penitentiary system and systematic abuse of prisoners by guards and other convicts. Mary Ilyushina, Washington Post, 14 June 2022 Kitchen then phoned the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and learned that White was incarcerated at the Darrington Unit, a penitentiary thirty miles outside Houston. The New Yorker, 17 Jan. 2022 Violence in prisons has been escalating in recent years, but this was the worst penitentiary massacre in the South American country's history. Harold Maass, The Week, 30 Sep. 2021 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

Noun and Adjective

Middle English penitenciary, from Medieval Latin poenitentiarius, from poenitentia

First Known Use

Noun

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Adjective

1577, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of penitentiary was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near penitentiary

Cite this Entry

“Penitentiary.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/penitentiary. Accessed 30 Nov. 2022.

Kids Definition

penitentiary

noun

pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry
ˌpen-ə-ˈtench-(ə-)rē
plural penitentiaries
: a usually state or federal prison in which criminals are kept

Legal Definition

penitentiary

noun

pen·​i·​ten·​tia·​ry ˌpe-nə-ˈten-chə-rē How to pronounce penitentiary (audio)
plural penitentiaries
: a state or federal prison for the punishment and reformation of convicted felons compare house of correction, house of detention, jail, lockup

More from Merriam-Webster on penitentiary

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