AskDefine | Define jail

Dictionary Definition

jail n : a correctional institution used to detain persons who are in the lawful custody of the government (either accused persons awaiting trial or convicted persons serving a sentence) [syn: jailhouse, gaol, clink, slammer] v : lock up or confine, in or as in a jail; "The suspects were imprisoned without trial"; "the murderer was incarcerated for the rest of his life" [syn: imprison, incarcerate, lag, immure, put behind bars, jug, gaol, put away, remand]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings

  • gaol (British, Australian)



  1. A prison; a place of detention; a place where a person convicted or suspected of a crime is detained.
  2. Confinement in a jail.
  3. school
    • I have to go to jail for 5 days per week.
  4. In the context of "horse racing": The requirements that a horse claimed in a claiming race not be run at another track for (usually) 30 days.


See prison


  1. To imprison.



Extensive Definition

Jail, or gaol (especially in Australia), remand prison, is a correctional institution used to detain persons who are in the lawful custody of the state. This includes either accused persons awaiting trial or for those who have been convicted of a crime and are serving a sentence of less than one year. Jails are generally small penitentiaries run by individual counties and cities,. Approximately half of the U.S. jail population consists of pretrial detainees who have not been convicted or sentenced. Prisoners serving terms longer than one year are typically housed in correctional facilities operated by state governments. Unlike most state prisons, a jail usually houses both men and women in separate portions of the same facility. Some jails lease space to house inmates from the federal government, state prisons or from other counties for profit.
In 2005, a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 62 percent of people in jails have not been convicted, meaning many of them are awaiting trial. As of 2005, local jails held or supervised 819,434 individuals. Nine percent of these individuals were in programs such as community service, work release, weekend reporting, electronic monitoring, and other alternative programs. However, due to American influence in Australia, the spelling "jail" is now preferred in popular contexts such as the media, the spelling "gaol" being mainly retained in historical use and in the legal profession. Canada, also a part of the Commonwealth, has made a similar transition in usage.
"Gaol" also remains in use as the standard spelling of "jail" in Ireland, but note that it typically applies to defunct English-run gaols from the English occupation of Ireland. The word has strong historical connotations of unjust imprisonment in Ireland, and if an Irish person says someone is "in gaol" (or "in jail") rather than "in prison", they may be hinting that they consider the imprisonment unjust, a distinction that may be unnoticed by non-Hiberno-English speakers. In turn, Irish English-speakers may also invalidly assume that English speakers from other nations are making that distinction. "Prison" and "Detention Centre" are typically used for extant Irish-run incarceration facilities. The English-built but still in-use Mountjoy Gaol was renamed to Mountjoy Prison.
The Oxford English Dictionary states that "gaol" comes from the Norman French spelling gaiole down to the 17th century as gaile. It remains in written form in the archaic spelling gaol mainly through statutory and official tradition. The only remaining spoken pronunciation is jail (), from the Old Parisian French word jaiole. In modern French, the word geôle is still used in literary contexts to refer to jail.
From the 16th until the 18th centuries the word goal(e) was used widely, possibly as an erroneous spelling of gaol, or possibly an unusual phonetic spelling.
Tim Moore in his book on Monopoly "Do Not Pass Go" suggests that, in Britain, the change from "gaol" to "jail" was precipitated by the popularity and spread of Monopoly in the 1930s and '40s. The non-London specific squares and cards had been copied wholesale from the original Atlantic City version where the spelling "jail" was commonplace. It is also for this reason that the policeman on the "Go to Jail" square features a clearly American uniform in contrast to the traditional "Woodentop" style British police helmet.


External links

jail in Finnish: Vanki
jail in Norwegian: Arresthus
jail in Swedish: Häkte

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

POW camp, bastille, beleaguer, beset, besiege, big house, black hole, blockade, bolt in, borstal, borstal institution, bound, box in, bridewell, brig, bucket, caboose, cage, calaboose, can, cast in prison, cell, chamber, chokey, clap in jail, clap up, clink, close in, college, compass, concentration camp, condemned cell, confine, constrain, contain, cooler, coop, coop in, coop up, cordon, cordon off, corral, death cell, death house, death row, detain, detention camp, encircle, enclose, encompass, enshrine, federal prison, fence in, forced-labor camp, freezer, gaol, guardhouse, guardroom, hedge in, hem in, hold captive, hold in captivity, hold prisoner, hoosegow, house in, house of correction, house of detention, immure, impound, imprison, incarcerate, include, industrial school, intern, internment camp, jailhouse, jug, keep, kennel, labor camp, leaguer, lock in, lock up, lockup, maximum-security prison, mew, mew up, minimum-security prison, nick, oubliette, pen, pen in, penal colony, penal institution, penal settlement, penitentiary, pocket, pokey, prison, prison camp, prisonhouse, quarantine, quod, rail in, reform school, reformatory, rock pile, send down, shrine, shut in, shut up, slammer, sponging house, stable, state prison, stir, stockade, surround, the hole, throw into jail, tollbooth, training school, wall in, wrap, yard, yard up
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