Those who have never been in legal trouble and do not work in the legal industry often use the terms “jail” and “prison” interchangeably, but those familiar with the legal system understand that the two institutions actually operate quite differently. If you have been accused of a crime, criminal lawyer Peter M. Liss believes it’s a good idea to know the difference between jail and prison so you can better understand the potential penalties you could face.
What is a Jail?
Like a prison, a jail is an institution where people are incarcerated, but people usually spend less time in jail than in prison. When people are arrested and awaiting their trial, they are often held in jail unless they are released, whether on their own recognizance, through bail or occasionally through the use of a GPS monitoring device. Jail can also be used as a criminal sentence though and incarceration terms for all misdemeanor crimes will be carried out in a jail.
Additionally, some sentences for felony crimes can also be served in jail. If the court sentences anyone convicted of a felony to probation, the defendant can serve up to one year in jail. Additionally, persons convicted of lower-level felonies now serve their time in local jails as part of a local prison sentence. This was designed by the state to reduce the costs of housing prisoners in state prisons. These sentences in local jails can run for many years.
Overall, the average sentence for people in jail is shorter than those of people in prison. If you aren’t sure whether you are facing misdemeanor, felony or wobbler charges, your defense lawyer can tell you more about the charges related to your case.
Lastly, some people are held in jail before they are transferred to or from a prison.
Prison Sentences in California
As you may have guessed, based on how jail sentences are issued, prison sentences are reserved for those who have been convicted of a felony. Anyone convicted of a capitol crime and left waiting on “death row” will serve their sentence in prison. So will many people convicted of less serious crimes such as fraud or perjury.
More Differences Between Jail and Prison
Jails are generally operated by the county and its local sheriff’s department while prisons are operated by the state correctional department. Usually prisons are much more secure and prisoners are subject to more regulations.
While jail is generally preferable to prison both due to the maximum sentence length and the types of people a person will be incarcerated with, prison does offer some amenities that are unavailable in jail. One difference between jail and prison that is actually preferable when it comes to prison is that those in jail get very little exercise and, in fact, local jails, including the Vista jail, only usually offer prisoners a maximum of three hours of exercise per week, as provided by state law as they lack equipment and space. California state prisons, on the other hand, have far more recreational amenities including running tracks and allow for more exercise time than local jails.
Another difference between jail and prison is that inmates in jail generally must see their visitors through a piece of Plexiglas (though local criminal attorneys note that the local jail allows webcam computer visitations instead) whereas prisons often let visitors and inmates see each other in face to face visits.
Obviously, when it comes to jails vs. prisons, the best option is to avoid incarceration altogether, whether through an alternative sentencing program or proving your innocence. If you have been accused of a crime or have other questions about the difference between jail and prison, criminal defense attorney Peter M. Liss can help. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation at his office, located directly across from the Vista jail and courthouse.
Image by DanielVanderkin