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Protective custody was the detention of an individual for their own safety rather than punishment for a crime.
In 2373, Odo placed Arissa in protective custody in his quarters to keep her from being murdered. His choice of venue led Jadzia Dax to assume (rightly) that something happened between the couple, though Kira Nerys was skeptical, saying he was only being thorough. (DS9: "A Simple Investigation")