what is the difference between jail and prison?

Is there a difference?

5 Answers

  • 10 years ago
    Favorite Answer


    People awaiting trial; people sentenced for a short duration, typically less than a year

    Run by the county sheriff's department


    People convicted of crimes; sentenced for a longer term

    Run by the Prisons and Corrections office in the respective states. There are also federal prisons.

    The most notable difference is that prison inmates have been tried and convicted of crimes, while those in jail may be awaiting trial. A prison is under the jurisdiction of either federal or state, while the jail holds people accused under federal, state, county and/or city laws. A jail holds inmates from two days up to one year.


    Jails are locally operated places of incarceration — usually the county runs the jail. There are about 3,600 jails in the U.S.

    Prisons are operated by the state government, or by the federal government (the federal Bureau of Prisons).

    Since jails are within the county where the individual was arrested, the jail isn’t very far away.

    A state or federal prison could be very far away from a convicted person’s home and family. There are only about 100 federal prisons, detention centers, and correctional institutions in the U.S.

    A person who is being held in custody before a trial/has not yet paid bail/was only recently arrested will be held at a local jail, not in prison.

    Jails are also a place for people who have been convicted of relatively minor crimes. A jail sentence rarely exceeds a year or two.

    Defendants who are convicted of state crimes will serve their time in a state prison. Those who are convicted of a federal crime will serve their sentence in a federal prison.

    Jails don’t have many amenities for people serving time there, since they won’t be there for very long (although a jail sentence can seem like a very very long time). A county jail may have a work release program and services to combat substance abuse and address vocational needs of its inmates — or it may provide only the basic necessities of housing, food, and safety.

    Prisons often have work release programs, a halfway house service, classrooms for vocational training, and recreation and entertainment facilities. Some prison inmates are going to be there for decades or for a lifetime.


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  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    Well, although the words are often used interchangeably, there is a difference.

    A jail is a local holding facility where people are kept confined for the short term, like until someone comes to bail them out, but a prison is where you are sent to serve out a loooong sentence.

    Good luck!... ☺

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  • Anonymous
    4 years ago

    To most people the two terms would be synomomous. But I believe Jail is a word used to describe a short incarceration term and temporary while Prison denotes a place for post-sentencing incarceration, usually to finish the sentence.

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  • teresa
    Lv 6
    10 years ago

    generally "jail" is a more local, shorter term confinement for less serious crimes than "prison", which is usually at the state or federal level. "Jail" is also the local holding facility where one stays until you go to trial, or are released on bail.

    You'd might end up in jail for a few weeks/ months for punching your neighbor depending upon the level of the assult... Kill him, or almost kill him, and you will be put in prison for years/ life...

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  • Anonymous
    10 years ago

    jail; People awaiting trial; people sentenced for a short duration, typically less than a year

    A place of detention; a place where a person convicted or suspected of a crime is detained.

    prison; A place of long-term confinement for those convicted of serious crimes.

    People convicted of crimes; sentenced for a longer term

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