People often use the terms jail and prison interchangeably, but they actually describe two distinct places. If you are facing time behind bars, it’s important to understand the difference between jail and prison.

Length of Stay

Jails typically hold defendants who are awaiting trial or those who have been convicted of a crime and ordered to serve a short sentence behind bars. Most people who are in jail have been convicted of misdemeanor crimes. On the other hand, prisons are long-term facilities that typically hold people who have been convicted of felony crimes. People who are sentenced to prison may spend years—or their entire lives—behind bars.


Jails are operated by local authorities, while prisons are operated by state or federal authorities. If you are sentenced to jail, the facility that you are sent to will most likely be located near the area where you were arrested. However, individuals who are sent to prison may be sent further away since there are not prisons located in every county. This is especially common in cases where the defendant is convicted of a federal crime. There are only about 100 federal prisons in the country, so chances are the one that you are sent to will not be close to home, which makes visitation difficult.


Prisons have more amenities than jails because the people who are sent to prison will be there for a long period of time. It is common to see vocational training, recreation facilities, classrooms, and halfway house services within a prison. These amenities are provided to prisoners to keep them busy and to help them adjust to life outside of prison once the end of their sentence is near.

New Arrivals

New detainees arrive at jails across the country everyday, however the number of new inmates at prisons is much lower. This is because people who are arrested for crimes such as drug possession, driving under the influence, or assault are taken to jail, whereas people are only taken to prison when they have been convicted of a crime.

Same Rights

Inmates in jail and prison share similar rights, including the right to access the courts, the right to receive medical attention when needed, and the right to be protected from cruel and unusual punishment.

If you are facing possible time in jail or prison, speak to an attorney at Reisch Law Firm today. Our criminal defense attorneys will work tirelessly to protect your rights and fight for the best possible outcome in your case. Schedule a free consultation today by calling 303-291-0555 or filling out this online form.