Jail or Prison? Yes, There Is a Difference!

jail vs prison, cells in a dark corridor

Jail or Prison? Yes, There Is a Difference!

What’s the difference between jail and prison? While both describe a place you’d probably prefer not to be, the two types of incarceration are, in fact, very different. 

Jail vs. Prison in Arizona

English is an ever-evolving language, and many people use the words ‘jail’ and ‘prison’ interchangeably. But while jail and prison are similar in concept, when it comes to criminal law, they’re not the same. 

Your friends or family will understand what you mean if you call prison jail or vice versa, but confusing the two terms in court is no light matter. If you’re dealing with the criminal justice system in Arizona, it is important to understand the difference. 

Some people might roll with loose definitions, but Arizona’s penal code does not. It makes the clear distinction that jail time is for people who committed misdemeanors, are awaiting trial, or are being legally detained. Prison is for those convicted of felonies, and minors are detained at separate correctional facilities


A jail is a place where people are held in lawful custody. Jails are considered minimum security. Typically, people are sent to jail for petty crimes in the county where they were arrested or detained. 

Minor crimes, like misdemeanors, can land you time in jail. Or, if you are awaiting trial for a felony, you might be held in jail until you are sentenced, then moved to prison afterward if convicted. 


Prisons are a place of confinement for felony lawbreakers, and they operate at a state or federal level. Prisons can be either minimum or maximum security. There are far fewer prisons than jails in Arizona, so if you get sent to prison, you may end up far away from family and loved ones. 

People in prison have been convicted of serious crimes, and are under the custody of the state or federal government. When convicted of a felony in Arizona, you also lose certain rights that were granted to you by the state, like being able to carry weapons or vote in elections. 

If You’re Facing Incarceration, Call a Lawyer

Finding yourself in legal trouble can be worrisome enough. The first step after being arrested, or threatened with charges is finding a good lawyer. They will help you navigate the courts. Next is understanding the difference between jail and prison. 

If you are facing time in jail or prison, contact Todd Coolidge right away. A good lawyer can keep you from being behind bars. Criminal cases are complicated, and in Arizona they require an insight into state law that only comes with experience.  

With over 25 years defending clients in the Arizona Criminal Courts, Todd Coolidge has the expertise to fight for you. Contact us today for a consultation on your case.




Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (3/12/23). Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash.