Outside wall of prison

Jail vs. Prison

It’s easy to feel confused over the difference between a jail and a prison.

Hollywood has warped our perceptions of these two types of rehabilitation. When a character on a TV show is sentenced to jail, it’s often considered a dramatic situation. How bad is jail? What’s the difference between a county jail and a prison?

What is a County Jail?

A county jail is a place where criminals or suspected criminals can be held for one of two reasons. Either the person in jail has already been convicted of a crime, or the person in jail is awaiting trial. Generally speaking, most people who end up in a counting jail rarely spend more than one year in the jail. Contrary to popular belief, county jails are not usually hard places that churn out characters from “Shawshank Redemption.” In fact, many county jails are considered more of ‘time out’ centers than places for hardened criminals.

Who Ends Up in County Jail?

A person who is awaiting trial who cannot set bail will spend the time prior to the trial in a county jail. A person will also wait in county jail before bail is set. Another person who ends up in this type of establishment would be someone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor or a minor crime that doesn’t require a long sentence or maximum security. It’s rare that someone sentenced to a county jail would spend more than one year there.

What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison?
Jails have two purposes: They act as holding facilities for people awaiting trial, and they are institutions where people convicted of misdemeanors or minor crimes are sentenced. Jails don’t usually need heavy security and don’t usually house criminals with violent records. On the other hand, prisons are where people convicted of more major crimes are sentenced. They could end up serving many years for more serious crimes, or they might be considered dangerous criminals. These criminals often need more security and highly trained professionals. Since prisons often cost more to run, many judges try to sentence criminals with misdemeanors to jails instead.

Rights in County Jail
Everyone has the same rights in a county jail. Your first right is the right to an attorney. If you do not have an attorney, the state will provide you with one. You are allowed to meet with your attorney while you are in the county jail for up to as many times as the law allows. Many people opt for public defenders because they are offered free of charge; however, opting for a defense attorney can be a better option. Most defense attorneys do not retain a full fee if they lose, and they can often obtain money for lost wages and court fees.

You also have the right to a bail hearing while in jail. Bail is the amount of money a judge requires you to pay the state while awaiting your hearing. After you show up for your hearing or trial, the state pays the money back. This money is simply a retainer to ensure you’ll show up for your court date. Most people who go through the system don’t have $30,000 to spend on bail; this is why many people opt to take out a bail bond. This is a loan for the amount of money that your bail is set at. The bail bondsman will also take a fee for the loan, so you won’t receive the entire amount back.

Misdemeanors and Felonies
When it comes to whether or not a person is sent to jail or a prison, the type of crime they have committed matters greatly. Most people who have committed a misdemeanor end up in a county jail, and most people who have committed a felony end up in a prison. Misdemeanors are considered less severe crimes and include crimes like vandalism. Generally, a criminal sentenced to jail for a misdemeanor will end up serving three, six or twelve months. These crimes may also be expunged from the person’s record after a certain amount of time.

Felonies are more serious crimes and require stricter punishments. Most felons are sentenced to a facility for more than one year and won’t have the option to expunge their crimes from their records.

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