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Middle English detencion, from Anglo-French or Latin; Anglo-French, from Latin detention-, detentio, from detinēre to detain


  • 1 : the act or fact of detaining or holding back; especially : a holding in custody
  • 2 : the state of being detained; especially : a period of temporary custody prior to disposition by a court


Detention generally refers to a state or government holding a person in a particular area (generally called a detention centre), either for interrogation, or as punishment for a crime (see prison).

The term can also be used in reference to the holding of property, for the same reasons. The process of detainment may or may not have been preceded with arrest. The prisoners in Guantánamo Bay are for example referred to as "detainees".

Any form of imprisonment can be called detention, although the term is associated with persons who are being held without warrant or charge.

See also