Generally, the most significant difference between jail and prison is the length of stay for inmates. Jail is usually short-term incarceration while prison is long-term.
What is a Jail?
Jails are usually local facilities under the jurisdiction of a city, local district, or county. These facilities are not made for long-term holdings as they are for the newly arrested and those awaiting trial or sentencing. Those sentenced to serve a small amount of time (less than a year) may be housed in the local jail for the duration of their sentence.
Jails are usually run by local law enforcement and/or local government agencies and are designed to hold inmates awaiting trial or serving a short sentence. Often “short” is designated as a misdemeanor conviction versus a felony.
In some instances where misdemeanor sentences are run consecutively, one may spend more than a year in jail. Jails often operate work release programs and boot camps, and some offer educational, substance abuse, and vocational programs.
What is a Prison?
Prisons are where inmates go after getting sentenced for longer-term imprisonment, usually for more serious crimes. They’re operated by either the state government or the Federal Bureau of Prisons; people who have been convicted of breaking a state law are sent to state prisons, and people who have been convicted of breaking federal law are sent to federal prisons.
Both prison types are much larger operations than jails; they house many more inmates and are generally set up with more infrastructure and resources suited to longer-term detention.
People who have been found guilty of breaking a state law are usually sent to state prison. Those who have violated federal laws are typically sent to federal prison located somewhere in the U.S. Some states have jails and prisons that are privately operated–usually by a corporation.
People released from prison may be released to parole supervision or to some other type of community program. Or they may be released with no supervision at all if they have served their full term in prison.
Notable difference between jail and prison
1. A jail refers to a small, temporary holding facility.
2. Prisons are institutional facilities under the jurisdiction of the state or federal government where convicted offenders serve longer sentences.
3. Jail is a secure place for people who have been arrested and are being held pending a plea agreement, trial, or sentencing.
4. A prison is designed to hold individuals convicted of more serious crimes.
5. In some jurisdictions, the cut-off for serving time in jail instead of prison is 2 years rather than 1 year.
6. In both systems, the inmate has a right to visitation.
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