Law and Politics

Start Free Trial

Discuss the difference between prisons and jails

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There are several differences between jails and prison and one must be careful not to use the terms interchangeably.  Here they are contrasted.


  • are operated by local (county) jurisdiction such as the Sheriff, city governments or provincial government as it is in the case of Canada, for instance.
  • are temporary holding places for people awaiting trial, or people that are serving minor sentences depending on the laws of the county.
  • are not meant to hold an individual for more than 2 years.
  • run medium or low custody programs such as work/release, or juvenile boot camps.
  • There are no "amenities" in jail nor specialized programs for long-term rehabilitation. 


  • have a state or federal jurisdiction
  • are the incarceration place where individuals go after they are proved to be guilty as charged.
  • are designed for rehabilitation purposes, for which there are programs in place for inmates such as schooling and counseling.
  • can be different from one another as far as the type of inmate that they hold (think maximum security prisons versus regular).
  • holding time depends on the sentencing given by a judge, so it can be from 2 years to life.

Look up your local sheriff's department website and you will find more specifications depending on which county you live in. Your local sheriff may have also provide information regarding the number of jails and prisons in your county/state respectively.

This will also give you a chance to get acquainted with the names of, and information about, the people that protect your civil rights and work "on your side".

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial