Difference between Prison and Jail

Key difference: Jails and prisons are part of the criminal justice system that also includes courts, law enforcement, and crime labs. Jails are mainly used to house an individual who is awaiting trial or is awaiting his/her sentencing. Prisons are used for holding felons and persons with sentences for crimes committed.

 

Jails and prisons are facilities that are used to confine individuals who are believed to have committed crimes and broken laws. Jails and prisons are part of the criminal justice system that also includes courts, law enforcement, and crime labs.

 

The main difference between a prison and a jail is the reason for which they are utilized. Jails are mainly used to house an individual who is awaiting trial or is awaiting his/her sentencing. Once the individual is sentenced, he/she is termed as a convict. If the convict’s crime is a misdemeanor and/or his sentence to be served is minor, i.e. in most cases less than a year; then the convict is housed at a jail.

 

However, if the convict’s crime is serious and his sentence to be served is lengthy; in most cases more than a year, then the convict is housed at a prison. A prison is usually bigger than a jail and more facilities and guards, in order to house even the most hardened criminals.

 

The following table lists some of the differences between a prison and a jail:

 

 

Prison

Jail

Definition according to Dictionary.com

A building for the confinement of persons held while awaiting trial, persons sentenced after conviction, etc.

A prison, especially one for the detention of persons awaiting trial or convicted of minor offenses.

Definition according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics

Prisons are longer-term facilities run by the state or the federal government typically holding felons and persons with sentences of more than one year.

Jails are locally-operated short term facilities that hold both inmates awaiting trial or sentencing or both, and those sentenced to a term of less than 1 year, typically misdemeanants.

Used for

Holding felons and persons with sentences for crimes committed.

Holding inmates awaiting trial or sentencing

Duration

Long-Term

Short-Term; usually less than a year

Run by

State or Federal Government

Police or Sheriffs

Facilities and Amenities

More; Prisons may have exercise areas, common areas for eating and socializing in lower security areas, church facilities, and an educational facility which includes classrooms, libraries, and labs to work and study in.

Less; Inmates may have access to bathrooms and are provided with food and water, and in a low security jail, they may be able to socialize in common areas during certain periods of the day.

Size

Larger; designed to hold large number of criminals

Smaller; designed to hold a very small number of criminals

Security

More; Prisons used mainly for white collar criminals may have lower security, as compared to prisons for dangerous criminals.

Less; depends on the jail. Some may have high level of security.

 

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