Prisoner vs Inmate: Difference and Comparison

Crime is a punishable offense or an unlawful act done by a person.

The person accused of a crime is passed through a trial where it is determined whether they are guilty of the charges pressed against them or not.

Before the trial, they are held in local jails, and if they are found guilty, they are sent to state or federal prisons. They become prisoners or inmates.

Crime is rampant these days, and punishing those who practice it is necessary.


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The judgment can be given by the state or any other authority based on the seriousness of the crime.

The imprisoned are either called prisoners or inmates.

Key Takeaways

  1. A prisoner has been sentenced to serve time in jail or prison, while an inmate is anyone currently living in a prison or jail.
  2. The term “prisoner” refers to someone convicted of a crime. In contrast, “inmate” can refer to anyone being held in a prison or jail, regardless of whether they have been convicted.
  3. While both terms refer to incarcerated people, the term “prisoner” carries a more negative connotation, as it implies that the person has committed a crime and been punished for it.

Prisoner vs. Inmate

The difference between prisoners and inmates is that prisoners are people held in jails before their trials occur and their judgment is passed. On the other hand, inmates have been convicted and sentenced to prison life. Prisoners and inmates are both deprived of their right to freedom and held against their will.

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Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonPrisonerInmate
Area of ConfinementPrisoners are held confined in state and federal prisons.Inmates are held captive in local and county jails. They may also be held in detention centers.
Judgment and ConfinementPeople being held in jails when the judgment has not yet passed are also known as prisoners.Inmates are confined in jails only after being sentenced to a particular time in their judgment.
MeaningAny person being held against their will in any scenario can also be termed as a prisoner.The word ‘inmate’ can also be used for people confined to hospitals for treatment.
Captivity StatePrisoners can be held against their wishes even if they haven’t committed crimes. Prisoners of war come under this category.Inmates are always accused and convicted of their crimes before being put in prison.
Institutional TiesPrisoners may be at flight risk and trying to break out. Inmates become closely aligned with the rules of their institution.

What is a Prisoner?

A prisoner is a person who is robbed of their liberty against their wishes and is held in captivity, forcibly restrained, or confined.

Any person convicted of committing a crime is legally termed a prisoner. They are prosecuted for felonies but not for misdemeanors.

This distinction was discarded after the introduction of the Criminal Law Act 1967.

The earliest known prisoner goes back to 8000 BC from the prehistoric graves of Egypt. The prisoners’ harshest punishment is solitary confinement, where one person is held apart from others.

This has severe negative mental repercussions.


What is an Inmate?

‘Inmate’ is the general term that applies to a person living in a place that houses several other people. People living under the same roof are known as inmates.

The place can be an institution like a prison or a hospital. A patient can be called an ‘inpatient’ as well. 

An inmate is a broad term compared to a prisoner, which only means being held captive. An inmate at prison begins to get institutionalized.

They get used to living in prison and connect with the staff. ‘Model inmates’ are ideal inmates that may inform the staff of any wrongdoings taking place anonymously.

There develops an ‘inmate code’ among people where they acquire some values and adopt behavior guidelines in prison. This is good for the institution as it helps bring reform among the people. 


Main Differences Between Prisoners and Inmates

  1. According to the US, ‘prisoner’ refers to people convicted in federal and state prisons, while ‘inmates’ are held in local jails, county jails, or detention centers.
  2. Inmates are ensured to be rightfully convicted of their crimes before being held in jail, but this may not always be true for prisoners.
  3. Prisoners can be held captive even outside jails by someone against their will, while the term ‘inmate’ can also be used to describe people spending prolonged time in mental institutions or hospitals for their treatments.
  4. Prisoners may not have committed a crime for being sent to prison or maybe awaiting their judgment. Only after assessing the seriousness of a crime is a person sent to either state/federal prison or detention centers/county jails.
  5. Inmates become used to their surroundings, talk to the staff, and form close ties with them. Prisoners do not always share these similarities and are at a higher flight risk than inmates.
Difference Between Prisoner and Inmate
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