The first occasion on which we read of a prison is in the history of Joseph in Egypt. Then Potiphar, "Joseph's master, took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound" ( Genesis 39:20-23 ). The Heb. word here used (sohar) means properly a round tower or fortress. It seems to have been a part of Potiphar's house, a place in which state prisoners were kept.
The Mosaic law made no provision for imprisonment as a punishment. In the wilderness two persons were "put in ward" ( Leviticus 24:12 ; Numbers 15:34 ), but it was only till the mind of God concerning them should be ascertained. Prisons and prisoners are mentioned in the book of ( Psalms 69:33 ; 79:11 ; 142:7 ). Samson was confined in a Philistine prison ( Judges 16:21 Judges 16:25 ). In the subsequent history of Israel frequent references are made to prisons ( 1 Kings 22:27 ; 2 Kings 17:4 ; 1 Kings 25:27 1 Kings 25:29 ; 2 Chr 16:10 ; Isaiah 42:7 ; Jeremiah 32:2 ). Prisons seem to have been common in New Testament times ( Matthew 11:2 ; Matthew 25:36 Matthew 25:43 ). The apostles were put into the "common prison" at the instance of the Jewish council ( Acts 5:18 Acts 5:23 ; 8:3 ); and at Philippi Paul and Silas were thrust into the "inner prison" ( 16:24 ; comp 4:3 ; Acts 12:4 Acts 12:5 ).
[For imprisonment as a punishment, see PUNISHMENTS] It is plain that in Egypt special places were used as prisons, and that they were under the custody of a military officer. ( Genesis 40:3 ; 42:17 ) During the wandering in the desert we read on two occasions of confinement "in ward" -- ( Leviticus 24:12 ; Numbers 15:34 ) but as imprisonment was not directed by the law, so we hear of none till the time of the kings, when the prison appears as an appendage to the palace, or a special part of it. ( 1 Kings 22:27 ) Private houses were sometimes used as places of confinement. By the Romans the tower of Antoni, was used as a prison at Jerusalem, ( Acts 23:10 ) and at Caesarea the praetorium of Herod. The royal prisons In those days were doubtless managed after the Roman fashion, and chains, fetters and stocks were used as means of confinement. See ( Acts 16:24 ) One of the readiest places for confinement was a dry or partially-dry wall or pit. ( Jeremiah 35:6-11 )