What is the Difference Between Jail & Prison

difference between jail and prison - jail cell

What is the Difference Between Jail & Prison

Any time spent locked up is going to be unpleasant. That’s why it’s important to hire the right criminal defense attorney from the start. At Coolidge Law Firm, we’ve been extremely successful in pre-file representation. This type of representation is conducted before charges are ever filed and has resulted in dismissed or reduced charges. However, it’s possible to be incarcerated before trial even starts. In this blog post, we’ll take a look at how these two institutions are defined and what the difference is between jail and prison. 

How are Jail and Prison Defined? 

These two terms are often used interchangeably by the public and even lawyers. And that’s easy to understand since their official definitions are often quite similar and general. Here is how Merriam Webster loosely defines them:

  • Jail: “a place of confinement for persons held in lawful custody.” 
  • Prison: “a place of confinement especially for lawbreakers”

However, Merriam Webster also offers these two, more specific definitions as well: 

  • Jail: “such a place under the jurisdiction of a local government (such as a county) for the confinement of persons awaiting trial or those convicted of minor crimes.”
  • Prison: “an institution (such as one under state jurisdiction) for the confinement of persons convicted of serious crimes”

Is There a Difference Between Jail and Prison? 

On the surface, the differences may seem subtle. But once we look at how each institution is used, we find them to be quite different. The following are just a few of the differences between jail and prison. 

    1. Local or State-Run. Jails tend to be run by local law enforcement and local government agencies. Whereas prisons are typically operated by the state or federal government
    1. Length of Time. Jails are well-known for having transient populations. Inmates of jails are usually there for short periods of time while they await trial or are serving shorter sentences that don’t require well-developed programs and facilities. On the other hand, prisons are facilities designed to hold inmates for lengthy periods of time. For this reason, they are often better-funded than jails and more preferable to jail. 
    2. Degree of the Crime. As mentioned above, the length of stay at one of these facilities is a defining quality. The duration of time spent in jail or prison is typically defined by the severity of the crime. There are 3 classes of misdemeanors with sentences ranging from 30 days to 6 months. Misdemeanor sentences are generally spent in jail. Felony sentences are typically much longer. Those convicted of a felony can spend between one year to life in prison.


Criminal Defense Attorney in Phoenix

If you or someone you know is or risks facing time behind bars, it’s imperative to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Not only may a lawyer be able to help you avoid jail or prison time altogether, they may be able to help minimize the time spent their if a conviction is unavoidable. Call Coolidge Law Firm today for your free case consultation. 


Image by Ichigo121212 from Pixabay (10/8/2019)