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A prison, also known as a correctional facility, jail, gaol (dated, British English), penitentiary (American English), detention center (American English) or remand center is a facility in which inmates are forcibly confined and denied a variety of freedoms under the authority of the state. Prisons are most commonly used within a criminal justice system: people charged with crimes may be imprisoned until they are brought to trial; those pleading or being found guilty of crimes at trial may be sentenced to a specified period of imprisonment. Besides their use for punishing crimes, jails and prisons are frequently used by authoritarian regimes against perceived opponents.
In American English, prison and jail are often treated as having separate definitions. The term prison or penitentiary tends to describe institutions that incarcerate people for longer periods of time, such as many years, and are operated by the state or federal governments. The term jail tends to describe institutions for confining people for shorter periods of time (e.g. for shorter sentences or pre-trial detention) and are usually operated by local governments. Outside of North America, prison and jail have the same meaning.
Prisons can be used as a tool of political repression to punish what are deemed political crimes, often without trial or other legal due process; this use is illegal under most forms of international law governing fair administration of justice. In times of war, prisoners of war or detainees may be detained in military prisons or prisoner of war camps, and large groups of civilians might be imprisoned in internment camps.
Common slang terms for prison include: "stir", "the pokey", "the slammer", "the clink", "the joint", "the calaboose", "the hoosegow", "the big house", and "up the river" (a possible reference to Sing Sing).