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Difference Between Jail and Prison (With Table)

Jail and Prison are two terms that refer to secure facilities that are permitted by law to deprive people of their freedoms within the justice system. They are however varying legally in their functions.

Jail vs Prison

The main difference between jail and prison is the length of time the inmates stay in the facility. Jail is used to confine people who are waiting for trial and those serving short sentences of one year and below. Prison is designed to hold convicts with serious crimes typically felony. The inmates are offered different programs by the prison depending on their level of custody .

A jail is run by a local government agency or the local law enforcement agency and prison is operated by the state government.


Comparison Table Between Jail and Prison (in Tabular Form)

Parameter of ComparisonPrisonJail
Roles and ResponsibilitiesThere major roles played by the prisons are rehabilitation, incapacitation, retribution, and deterrence. Retribution is punishment for crimes against the society. When Criminals are deprived of their freedom they are paying a debt to the society for the crimes they committed. Jails have a number of roles- they hold the accused offenders that await arraignment and sentencing, they also hold offenders who are not able to raise bail and those who are not eligible for bail. Jails also detain offenders who refuse probation, parole and bail-bond.
FacilitiesThere is less crowding in prison given that they are well constructed and organized facilities to accommodate a population that serves for a longer time.The population is always transient since petty offenders are arrested and released on a daily basis. Hence their facilities are not well developed
Living ConditionsPrisons are expected to provide better living conditions for the inmates.Living conditions in jails are quite bad. Inmates are confined in cage-like enclosures. They get very minimal exposure to the outside world and fresh air.
Security LevelPrisons are managed run by central government. Some are run by a private company under a contract with the government. The facilities are separated by the state. They are separated into three security levels. These are minimum, medium and maximum levels.Jails are run by local law enforcement and maintain only one security level.
Intake ProcessThe intake process is quite easy since the convicts are well aware of where they are going after attending the trial process and final conviction.The admission process is quite cumbersome. A great number of people arriving daily are either drunk, injured from fights that could have led to their arrest or could be mentally unstable people arrested are arrested by the law enforcers and jailed temporarily as the await to be taken to mental hospitals or any suitable place that they can be assisted.
Crimes and SentencesPrison hold convicts with long term sentences for crimes of felony-murder, rape, robbery with violence and other crimes of this nature. They are sentenced after hearing of their cases and going through the trial process in the court of LawInmates have shorter sentences for misdemeanor crimes –trespassing, drugs and substance abuse prostitution, careless driving and any other petty offence. The inmates either plead guilty or not guilty before they are sentenced or released on bail.


What is Jail?

Jail is a confinement facility for people who are awaiting trial or sentencing. People who are yet to raise bail so as to be released are usually housed in jail awaiting their payment. It also houses people who are awaiting transfer to another facility.

Legally, Confinement in jail is punishment. It is detention for people who are either too poor to put up the money to get out or the law enforcement officers think are likely to be too dangerous to be let out until tried out. Jails are used as correction and rehabilitation facilities for petty offenders.


What is Prison?

A prison is a confinement that is intended to hold people convicted of serious crimes of felony. Criminals are convicted after trial.

Convicts who are going to prison are made aware of it in advance. They might have been previously jailed but transferred to prison after trial and sentencing. Convicts are detained in prison for a long time.

Prisoners are consigned to a security level based on the crimes they are convicted for and other elements.

They are allowed to exercise most of their rights and are not normally caged. Sports, the internet and better sleeping and sanitary facilities are provided.

Main Differences Between Jail and Prison

  1. Jails are smaller facilities holding people arrested for misdemeanor offenses while Prisons are huge facilities holding people convicted of serious crimes of felony
  2. Jail is a place where people accused but not yet convicted are detained if they cannot afford bail to get them out.  Prison is where people who have already been convicted and proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt are convicted as a punishment.
  3. Jails hold fewer inmates as compared with Prisons that holds thousands of criminals
  4. Jails are run by the local government while prisons are run by the state or federal governments
  5. Jail sentences are shorter, typically less than one year. Prison sentences are longer taking several years



Both Prison and jail deprive a certain constitutional right to the inmates. There are some common features between the two.

One is that neither of the two is allowed to deprive the inmates of their human rights, being cruel and giving unusual punishment.

In both the systems, the inmate a visitation right, medical care, a right to access the courts and a lawyer and should be protected from any kind of discrimination.

Prisons and jails are required to meet certain set standards like complying with local health codes and building codes.

They are required to provide convenient housing, laundry, sanitation, and education programs.

Some courts and governments have separated jails and prisons for parents and children and established the means for providing basic needs to the inmates that are dependent.



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