In the United States, most people often confuse prison with jail. They are not exactly the same. To be clear about this, a prison is a secure facility that houses people who have broken the law, and have been convicted of a felony criminal offense. The convicted inmates are locked away for a given period of time, with very limited freedom during their sentence. Typically, they are serving a sentence of at least one year or more. It is the federal government or state government that operates prisons.
There are far less sentenced inmates being brought to prisons compared to the number of people being delivered in U.S. jails. These sentenced inmates either report to prison on a date set by the court, or they will be taken to prison after their conviction; they could also be transferred to prison after coming from jail.
Convicted inmates may be released from prison after serving under a community program or after being granted with parole supervision. They will also get released after serving their full term in prison.
A jail, on the other hand, is a secure facility that houses different types of inmates. They can be either of the following:
A. Convicted of a misdemeanor criminal offense and is serving a sentence of typically, less than one year
B. Have been sentenced to prison and is about to be transferred to another facility
C. Have been arrested and held for a pending trial, plea agreement, or sentencing.
Jails are also known as detention centers which are being operated by a county or city government. They are primarily used to detain inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. In smaller communities, they have what they call “lockups” where they hold one to a few arrestees for a short time before handling them over to a nearby jail or detention facility.
There are always a lot of detainees being brought to jails every single day. Some of them are detained for a few days or for less than a day, until they are approved for release in a court proceeding. There are those who are released after having an agreement to appear in court, while others are being held under supervision by a probation agency. Some, on the other hand, get released after putting up bail.
As for those who are under 18 and break the law, they are considered juveniles. The juveniles are not locked away in a regular prison with adults. They are brought to a center that is designed exclusively for juveniles.
There are various types of prisons. There’s the minimum security prison, medium security prison, and high security prison.
The minimum security prisons are usually reserved to criminals who are considered nonviolent. They are the ones who have committed fraud or embezzlement, and are not considered as a threat to others. These criminals often have a dormitory-type living space, enjoying some freedom, and surrounded with just a few guards.
The medium security prisons often house the most number of criminals. Here, the inmates have a more systematized daily routine compared to minimum security prisons. They have more armed guards and a caged-style confinement.
The most dangerous and most violent offenders on the other hand, are brought to high security prisons. Here, the inmates have very little freedom and they are being surrounded by a great number of prison guards. Each inmate confined here is considered a high-risk individual.
Those who broke the law and found mentally unstable are brought to psychiatric prisons that look similar to hospitals. Once the offender was brought there, they receive psychiatric treatment from doctors. They are not being confined here as a means of punishment but as a way of rehabilitating them.
There are also prison facilities in every branch of military. Prisoners of war or any military personnel who has broken the law will be delivered here. As of now, it’s still a controversy whether torture to enemy combatants is a good or a bad practice.
If somebody has committed a federal crime, he or she will be held in a federal prison, with violent crimes as an exception, which is being dealt with by the state prisons. When incarceration became the standard form of punishment in the US, states started to create their own prison systems. Each state determines how their correctional system will work out to their advantage.