Four Major Differences Between Jail and Prison in the United States


The terms of "jail" and "prison" have different definitions, which can be used to help you distinguish the differences and similarities between these two types of facilities. It is important to start with the definition of each term so that you can better understand how each facility is used, why it is used, and who operates it. The following descriptions are the definitions of "jail" and "prison," respectively.

Jail: This type of facility is seen as a detention facility. In this type of facility, individuals can be held for one day up to one year before being released or being moved to a prison.

Prison: This type of facility is seen as a detention facility for long-term confinement. This means individuals can remain in prison for an extended period, such as from one year to several years.


As can be seen, the definitions of "jail" and "prison" can help you understand how these types of facilities are used when it comes to criminals and those charged of crimes in the United States.

Jail: A jail is used to detain individuals who have been suspected of a crime. Similarly, someone who has been charged with a crime can also be held in jail until he/she needs to appear in court. Thus, individuals who are awaiting trial will be held in jail, but they will not be held in prison.

Prison: A prison is used to hold individuals who have been charged for committing a crime. This means that individuals who have been placed in prison will have appeared in court and been convicted of a specific crime. Thus, the prison sentence must be served in a prison.


In the United States, there is a major difference between the individuals or organizations that are responsible for operating and running jails and/or prisons.

Jail: A jail and/or detention facility with similar functions will most often be run by a sheriff, which means it is the responsibility of the local government. Since individuals are being held for a temporary amount of time, these facilities are not built to accommodate a large number of people at any given time. Generally, these facilities are smaller in size because they are detaining individuals who are awaiting trial or serving time for a misdemeanor.

Prison: A prison is operated by the state in which it is located. The federal government is responsible for running and maintaining all of the prisons in the United States. For this year, a specific department is dedicated to handling this major task. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) was designed to help organize where individuals will be placed once they have been convicted of a serious crime, such as grand theft or murder.


There are some major difference in terms of the types of amenities and services that are offered to individuals who are placed in jails and/or prisons.

Jail: Since jail is a temporary holding facility for offenders, it will offer services to its inmates such as work-release programs, community-service programs, and boot camps focused on helping individuals regain their ability to participate in society as non-offenders. Thus, jails are meant to be used as rehabilitation centers for individuals who commit minor crimes.

Prison: State prisons are used as "halfway houses," which means they are used to help former drug addicts, criminals, and other types of individuals with psychological issues learn how to lead normal lives without crime. Thus, state prisons may also have rehabilitation and restitution centers that are meant to be used for similar purposes of helping inmates manage their substance abuse and/or desire to partake in criminal behavior.

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