'To Prison' vs. 'To the Prison'

When talking about the general idea of being incarcerated, we say “to prison” (not “to the prison”). Inmates go to prison or are in prison, while visitors, workers, etc. go to the prison or go to a prison.

When talking about the general idea of being incarcerated, we say “to prison” (not “to the prison”).

He was sent to prison for 10 years.

He was sent to the prison for 10 years.

Inmates go to prison or are in prison, while visitors, workers, etc. go to the prison or go to a prison.

Michael is in prison for robbery. His sister went to the prison to visit him.

1. When to Omit the Article

When referring to the punishment of going to prison, without mentioning which particular prison, we always omit the article between the preposition and the noun.

Alice was sent to prison for seven years for the crime.

It can be hard to find a job after coming out of prison.

In this situation, we are thinking of “prison” as a general idea of these places and what they are used for.

My brother was released from prison last week.

The mother was threatened with prison for refusing to send her children to school.

2. When to Use a determiner Before ‘Prison’

If a specific prison has been previously named, you can use a determiner, such as “the”, “this”, “that”, etc., to identify the noun.

Albert was sent to that prison for stealing some classified documents.

The prison housed almost 800 inmates.

When visiting a friend or a member of our family, we need a determiner, even if a specific prison was not mentioned before.

Jennifer goes to the prison to visit her husband twice a month.

Jennifer goes to prison to visit her husband twice a month.

In general, use an article before “prison” when you are not talking about inmates or being imprisoned.

The social worker goes to the prison once a week.

We can also use the word “prison”, figuratively speaking, to mention or describe a confinement. In this situation, we typically add a possessive pronoun (my, your, his, her, our, their) before the word.

The place had been his home once, but then it became his prison.

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