Houston Criminal Lawyer
experienced, aggressive representation


Behind Bars: Jail vs. Prison

Choosing between jail and prison is the stuff that bad dreams are made of, but there really is a significant difference. The primary distinction is the length of the sentence. Jails are generally reserved for prisoners that have received a sentence of one year or less. Longer sentences are served in either a state or federal prison, although some prisoners spend many months in jail while awaiting trial and sentencing.

County Jails

County jails are operated by county governments and overseen by the sheriff of each county. When someone is arrested on suspicion of committing a crime, they are immediately taken to jail. The prisoner will remain in jail until they are released on bond or bail, found innocent of all charges or sentenced to prison.

Jails lack the facilities and services that are available in state or federal prisons. County jails are primarily intended for prisoners that have been convicted of lesser crimes. Individuals convicted of crimes such as contempt of court, petty offenses or failing to pay child support are typically sentenced to county jail. To a certain extent, being sentenced to jail is good news since the duration of the sentence will be of relatively minor duration. Remaining in county jail may also mean that it will be easier for family members and friends to visit the prisoner.

State and Federal Prisons

State and federal prisons are massive enterprises that serve as miniature communities for prisoners that have been convicted of serious crimes. Federal prisons are used to incarcerate prisoners that have been convicted of federal crimes while state prisons house inmates that have been convicted of violating a state law. Prisons have also been assigned the role of rehabilitating serious and repeat offenders. Maximum security prisons offer an even higher level of security and escalated services for potentially dangerous prisoners.

Prisons offer an array of services, including vocational training, educational programs, recreational activities and medical services. Aside from meeting the daily needs of every inmate, including food and laundry services, prisons also offer drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, an extensive law library and programs to meet the spiritual needs of a diverse prison population.

Most people use the terms prison and jail interchangeably, but there really is a difference. The confusion is suddenly brought into focus when someone is charged with a crime or an offender is convicted and sentenced to a forced period of confinement. The ordeal becomes very real when family members are forced to start counting the days until their loved one is scheduled to be released from jail or prison. Regardless of whether a prisoner is destined to spend several months in jail or many years in state or federal prison, losing one’s freedom and being confined for any length of time is a slow and painful process.

Contact Shahin Zamir for free legal consultation today if you have been arrested and are facing jail or prison time.