Difference Between Prisoner and Inmate

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


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The person accused of 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 running rampant these days and it is necessary to punish those who practice it.

The judgement 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.

Prisoner vs Inmate

The difference between prisoners and inmates is that prisoners are people held in jails before their trials take place and their judgement is passed. Inmates, on the other hand, have been convicted and sentenced to prison life. Prisoners and inmates are both depraved of their right to freedom and held against their will.

Prisoner vs Inmate

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonPrisonerInmate
Area of ConfinementPrisoners are usually held confined in state and federal prisons.Inmates are held captive in local and county jails. They may also be held in detention centers.
Judgement and ConfinementPeople being held in jails when the judgement has not been passed yet are also known as prisoners.Inmates are confined in jails only after they have been sentenced a particular time in their judgement.
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 who are confined to hospitals for treatment.
Captivity StatePrisoners can be held against their wishes even if they haven’t committed any 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 usually become closely aligned to the rules of their institution.

What is a Prisoner?

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

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

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 harshest punishment among prisoners 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. 

Inmate is a very broad term as compared to prisoner which only means being held captive. An inmate at prison begins to get institutionalised.

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

There develops an ‘inmate code’ between people where they acquire some values and adapt behaviour guidelines in prison. This is good for the institution as it actually helps in bringing reform among the people. 


Main Differences Between Prisoner and Inmate

  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 made sure to be rightfully convicted of their crimes before being held in jails but it may not always be the case of 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 times in mental institutions or hospitals for their treatments.
  4. Prisoners may not have committed a crime for their being sent to prison or may be awaiting their judgement. Only after assessing the seriousness of a crime is a person sent to either state/federal prison or detention centers/county jails.
  5. Inmates usually become used to their surroundings and 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


  1. http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/imhprpji1112.pdf
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1740-1461.2004.00003.x
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