No, there are definitely many differences between prison and jail. They are entirely different entities. Here are some of the differences that you’ll want to know about if it’s possible that you or a member of your family is facing the prospect of going to jail or to prison:
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.
Ask a Criminal Lawyer about Jails and Prisons in Your Area