A penitentiary is a prison for big-time criminals convicted of big-time crimes. Commit a serious crime like a murder and you won't just go to jail; you'll be sent to the penitentiary.

Penitentiary comes from the Latin paenitentia, meaning "repentance." A penitentiary is a place you are sent to make repentance for a crime committed. Penitentiary can also be used as an adjective to describe something done to show penance, as in the penitentiary scarlet "A" on Hester Prynne's chest. In the Roman Catholic Church, a penitentiary is a priest who administers the sacrament of penance, or hears people's confessions.

Definitions of penitentiary

n a correctional institution for those convicted of major crimes

Type of:
correctional institution
a penal institution maintained by the government

adj used for punishment or reform of criminals or wrongdoers

penitentiary institutions”
punitive, punitory
inflicting punishment

adj showing or constituting penance

penitent, repentant
feeling or expressing remorse for misdeeds

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