What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison?

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Although these terms are used interchangeably, they differ in several ways. For instance, prisons are for more serious crimes, and jails are for less serious crimes.

Additionally, jails and prisons are the two parts of the corrections system.

Keep reading and find more information in the following discussion on what is the difference between jail and prison.

Where do they differ Jails Prisons
Basic meaning It’s restricted confinement when offenders stay as a part of their punishment. It’s restricted confinement too. But here, offenders go after their sentencing is complete.
Who is imprisoned
  • Charged with petty crimes
  • Just arrested regardless of the severity of the crime
  • People waiting for trials for petty conviction or trial
  • Dangerous criminal
  • Convicts
  • Offenders who are sentenced for a long time.
Size of the Facility Smaller than prisons Bigger than jails
Number of prisoners Fewer than prisons More than jails
Duration of the stay Short-term Long-term
Purpose Arresting and holding people to be sent to trial or sentence. Carrying out reformation and rehabilitation for criminals 

These are very basic ideas about jails and prisons. And you might like to know more details. Check the following sections.

What is Jail?

Usually, jails are local facilities. As said, it’s a local facility, it will be under the jurisdiction of your local district, city, or country.

Jails carry out various short-term correctional work, such as:

  • Newly arrested will be kept in jail first
  • Arrested people who will go for a trial or sentencing
  • People who get jail sentences for less than a year

What is Prison?

The idea of prison is the complete opposite of jail. So, prisons are institutional facilities. And prisons are controlled by the federal government and state separately.

Connecting to that—

  • People who violate federal law usually go to federal prison
  • People who violate state law usually go to state prison

Also, note that people are sent to prison because they have longer sentences. Prisons can be operated by private corporations as well.

Your state collaborates with them to house inmates. In addition, your state can’t control prisons. So, if it’s a private facility, the prison will be governed by a private entity.

Unlike jails, the discussion for prisons is longer. Continue reading to learn more about the prison system.

How Do Prisons work?

According to the law, after a conviction, two things can happen to a criminal:

  • They either will be on probation
  • Or they will be fined

3 Main Stage After Going to Prison

At the beginning, the main purpose of the prison authority is to keep criminals safe. But it changed after a time. So, there are 3 important stages you go through in prison:

  • Custodial sentence
  • Coercive
  • Correctional

Centering these three stages, the prisons design reformation and rehabilitation programs for the welfare of the criminals.

However, this doesn’t go as planned, at least not always. Some criminals will be aggressive, and you will have to deal with them differently.

That’s why the reformation and rehabilitation process can alter due to the:

  • How is an inmate acting?
  • What kind of treatment are they getting from the authorities because of their actions in prison?
  • And how is the environment?

How is the Security in a Jail: Jails Vs. Prison

There are several levels of security in a jail/ prison.

In case you want to know both similarities and differences between jails and prisons, this is one similarity with these places holding people as a correctional process.

Moving on—find out about the 4 levels of security system from the following pointers.

  1. Minimum Security: You will have fewer barriers to escaping, and there are programs to handle offenders in minimum security.
  2. Medium Security: There will be individual cells welded for prisoners. And in this level of security, you will need to attend rehabilitation and vocational education programs.
  3. Maximum Security: This is for extremely serious crimes. So, you, as a convict, will be in separate confinement.
  4. Administrative Segregation: In this arrangement, you will be held inside a different cell for 23 hours.

Up until now, you’ve learned about—what is the difference between jail and prison in Canada. Are you curious about how the USA’s jail and prison systems differ from Canada’s? Look at the brief discussion below.

What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison in USA?

The system of jail and prison is pretty much similar in Canada And USA. Like in Canada, jails handle short sentences and less severe crimes. And for longer sentences and more serious crimes, both the USA and Canada have arrangements for prisons.

Final Remarks: Talk to a Lawyer If Needed

You could be charged with some sort of crime, and you would want to get out of it.

If that is the case, you are most likely to be confused about which place between jail and prison you end up in.

In such a circumstance, you must consult an expert criminal lawyer. They can answer all of your questions about your charges, including jail and prison time.


For more information on jails and prisons, read up on the following questions.

What makes something a prison?

If you are held or remanded in a place by an authority for a crime, and you don’t have any sort of liberty to lead a free life—it’s a prison. A prison means correction too. To put it in a word, you are held in a place, you have to spend a long time there, and you go through various correctional processes.

What is the difference between jail and prison in the UK?

In the UK, you go to jail if you commit a misdemeanor that is a petty crime. And you go to prison for a felony which is a serious federal crime. The duration of staying in jail is shorter than the prison because prisons handle serious crimes.

Which is harder, jail or prison?

If you're considering comfort, prisons have better accommodations because they need to house people for a long time. But prison is more dangerous than jail because it contains criminals who have committed a range of serious crimes.

What is life in jail called?

If the court sentences you to be in prison for the rest of your life— formally, it’s known as a ‘Life Sentence’. Other than that, people call it ‘Life behind bars’.

What is Rule 49 in prison?

Mainly this rule is for young offenders. Rule 49, or Removal from associated, implies that if an inmate needs to be alone for a disciplinary reason, they shouldn’t be imprisoned with other prisoners. And corresponding higher authority’s permission is needed for this.