In casual conversation, you might have heard people refer to prison and jail interchangeably. Without giving the terms much thought, you likely considered these words synonyms. Yet, if you have been accused of a criminal offense, you may wonder if there are differences between the two. Several exist, and it is important to know these if the allegations against you move forward.

How operations differ between prisons and jails

One major way that prison and jail differ is in the agencies that operate them. State governments or the federal government usually operate prisons. Local governments or police departments, however, typically operate jails. Furthermore, prisons and jails house different types of inmates – and for different lengths of time. When someone ends up in prison, they were likely convicted of a felony offense and are serving a long-term sentence. The nature of their offense will dictate the security level of the prison they end up in – whether minimum, medium or maximum. Yet, when someone ends up in jail, it is likely that they are awaiting trial or are serving a short sentence for a misdemeanor offense.

How conditions differ between prisons and jails

Prisons and jails also differ in their living conditions and opportunities available to inmates. When someone ends up in prison, they will have access to outdoor time, exercise and a variety of programs. Their accommodations, though, will depend on the security level of their prison. Yet, when someone ends up in jail, they will likely serve their sentence or await trial in a small enclosure. They will likely have fewer opportunities for outdoor time or exercise than they would in prison. But in most cases, they will have access to rehabilitation and work release programs, which can help inmates from reoffending.

No matter the allegations against you, you will want to avoid serving a sentence in either prison or jail. A criminal defense attorney can help you fight to mitigate the impact of your charges.