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What is the difference between Jail and Prison?

Difference between jail and prison

The difference between jail and prison confuses many as sometimes they’re used interchangeably by people who are oblivious of the distinction between the two. Below, the two law terms are explained.

Jail definition

A jail is a place of confinement for persons convicted of minor crimes such as misdemeanors which carry short custody sentences.

It is also a place for temporary confinement for persons undergoing trial for a crime but are not on bail, known as remand or pre-trial detention, preventive detention, or provisional detention. Jails are usually located within the county the crime was committed.

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Examples of crimes that can land one in jail are shoplifting, petty theft, battery among other crimes classified as misdemeanors.

Prison Definition

A prison is a place of long term and in some cases permanent confinement of individuals convicted of higher and serious crimes. People held in prison have sentences exceeding one year and up to life imprisonment.

People sentenced to death are also held in prisons until their execution. A crime classified as a felony carries sentences that can see one sent to prison. Prisons are located at the state or federal level.

Differences between Jail and Prison



For misdemeanor convicts or defendants denied bail For convicted felons
For minor crimes For serious crimes
Located within counties Located within the state or Federal
Short term confinement Long term confinement
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