What is the difference between Jail vs Prison?
Do they mean the same thing or not?
What are the essential elements you should know!
In this article, we will break down the legal definition of Jail vs Prison so you know all there is to know about it!
Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!
Let’s dig into our legal dictionary!
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Table of Contents
Jail vs Prison Overview
What is the difference between the terms “jail” and “prison”?
The terms “jail” and “prison” are old terms in the English language and have been used for centuries.
The two terms are used interchangeably although there are differences between the terms prison and jail.
Jail is a place where someone is detained for a short period of time after committing an offense awaiting trial or sentencing.
Jails are typically managed by the city, local district, or the county.
A prison is an institutional facility where individuals convicted of a crime will serve their sentences.
Prisons are generally institutions managed by the state or federal government.
How do you legally define a jail or a prison?
What is the difference between jail and prison?
Although the terms jail and prison are used interchangeably, let’s look at their actual definition and see if we can nuance them further.
A “jail” is a place where a person is detained pending a hearing or waiting for trial.
Typically, a person is put in jail after having committed a minor offense.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, jail is defined as:
A place of confinement for persons held in lawful custody.
A “prison” is a place where individuals convicted of a crime are placed to serve their sentence.
Generally, those who end up in prison are those who have committed a criminal offense and have been found guilty of that offense where the sentence was to serve time in prison.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, prison is defined as:
“A state of confinement or captivity” or “a place of confinement especially for lawbreakers”
Let’s look at the features of a jail vs. prison so you can immediately tell the difference.
Here is an overview of the features of a jail:
- It’s designed for short-term stays (less than 1 year)
- Generally for misdemeanor crimes
- It’s run by a local government
- It may have rehabilitation programs (community work)
Here is an overview of the features of a prison:
- It’s designed for long-term stays (1 year or more)
- Generally for felony crimes
- It’s run by state or federal governments
- Has various security levels (minimum, low, medium, or high)
- Some may be privately managed by a corporation
Length of Stay
What’s the difference between prison and jail with regards to the person’s length of stay?
The most basic difference between prisons and jails are with respect to how long a person is detained there.
Jails are places managed by local law enforcement or agencies where they will hold inmates awaiting trial or for short sentences.
Generally speaking, we can expect misdemeanor convictions to be served in jails as opposed to prisons.
Prisons are generally managed by the state or federal government (the Federal Bureau Prisons for example).
A prison is a facility where a person convicted of more serious crimes will be held.
We are generally talking about felony crimes as opposed to misdemeanors.
Prisons have different levels of security ranging from minimum, medium, or maximum security.
They can also have solitary confinements.
Since prisons are designed for long-term incarceration, they offer more services to those incarcerated.
In other words, they are better designed for the living needs of their population.
Prisons offer services such as:
- Inmate programs
- Offer jobs
- Medical needs
- Possibility of freedom of movement
Jails on the other hand are designed for short stays and offer fewer services to their population.
In essence, jails are designed for people to “transit” through and are not designed for someone to “live” in.
Jails may have fewer programs, offer fewer medical care services, perhaps have more limitations on the freedom of movement.
What are the common characteristics of prison versus jail?
Although there are differences in the meaning of the terms prison vs. jail, there are also certain characteristics that are the same and do not change.
Both the jail and the prison are places where a person is deprived of their freedom.
With that said, when the state or government limits a person’s freedom, the inmate will always remain to his or her rights under the Eighth Amendment under the U.S. Constitution.
Under the Eight Amendment, a person has the right not to be subject to “cruel and unusual punishment”.
This means that there may be cases where incarceration may be considered as a violation of a person’s right when there is an extreme disproportion between the crime and the sentence.
Similarly, an inmate may be subject to cruel and unusual punishment or treatment while serving time in jail or in prison.
What’s the difference between jail and prison?
Let’s look at a summary of our findings so we better understand what is the difference between prison and jail.
Jail vs Prison Difference:
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