Penitentiary Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Penitentiary, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Penitentiary?

n. It is a place that prisons people who have committed serious crimes and which have been convicted by the court of law.They apply on the state and federal levels.

History and Meaning of Penitentiary

The term "penitentiary" originates from the word "penitent" which means repentant or remorseful. Penitentiary first emerged in the 18th century as a new approach to imprisonment that was intended to inspire genuine regret in those who committed crimes.

The penitentiary system sought to replace harsh, physical punishment with a more humane form of confinement with the hopeful effect of shaping a criminal’s behavior. The Pennsylvania System, first implemented at the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia in 1829, is the most famous example of an early penitentiary. This system sought to create a monastic and solitary experience for prisoners, isolated in their cells to reflect on their crimes, repent, and reform.

Examples of Penitentiary

  1. The notorious Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was once a federal penitentiary that housed some of America's most infamous criminals.
  2. The Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is a National Historic Landmark and a museum open to visitors.
  3. The Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as Angola, is one of the largest and most notorious prisons in the United States.

Legal Terms Similar to Penitentiary

  • Prison: A place where individuals who have been convicted of a crime are detained and serving their sentences.
  • Correctional Facility: A facility in which convicted criminals serve their sentences, undergo rehabilitation, and receive other forms of treatment.
  • Jail: A facility where individuals are held before trial, after being arrested, or serving a short sentence.