What is the Difference Between Jail and Prison?
In movies, books, television shows, and conversations with friends, the words “jail” and “prison” seem to be used interchangeably, but they are far from the same. Jails and prisons are different establishments that serve different purposes in the criminal justice system.
Jails are smaller than prisons and are under the jurisdiction of the specific city, county, or district within the state. Generally, jails have smaller populations than prisons because they only hold people charged with crimes in that specific area. Jails serve as a “pre-trial stage” for defendants awaiting trial, sentencing, or even just their bail hearing. This means that everyone in jail is innocent in the eyes of the law because most people in jail have not been convicted of anything yet, they just have charges against them.
For those that have been convicted and are in jail, they are likely serving shorter sentences that are under a year. Although the crimes allegedly committed by the people in jail are less serious than the people in prison, jails have less resources than prisons and most awaiting the next phase of their case are under worse conditions than if they were in a prison.
Prisons are larger, hold bigger populations of inmates, and operate under state or federal jurisdictions. The individuals in prison are usually those that are serving their sentences after being found guilty and were convicted of the crimes they were charged with. Prisons also hold individuals that are serving longer sentences, usually over one year, which include most felony offenses. Specifically, Minnesota has a total of 14 state-run prisons and four federal prisons. The state-run prisons are organized by levels of security that range from minimum to maximum, with the only maximum-security prison in Minnesota in Oak Park Heights.
However, prisons have more resources and educational programs available to them, since they are state, federally, and sometimes privately owned and operated. These resources allow inmates to participate in programs to achieve their GED or college degrees, seek treatment, or master a vocational skill.