The words prison and jail are sometimes considered interchangeable but actually describe different kinds of institution. The main difference between the two is how long a convict stays in one and also who is in charge. So, a person arrested for a crime will almost always be taken to a jail, which will be run by the County Sheriff in the local county. Most people do not spend more than a year in there. If a person is convicted of a more serious crime whether in a courtroom or because he takes a plea deal and the sentence is more than 1-2 years, he is definitely going to prison. Prison sentences can be anywhere from a few years to several lifetimes. Prisons are always run by the federal or state government.
The second major difference to discuss here is the fact that unlike prisons, jails are usually designed with the purpose to rehabilitate the inmates. Rehabilitation includes various programs which aim to educate and turn a criminal into a law-abiding citizen in the future. When educated, a former inmate has high chances of finding an honest job without resorting to shady activities once again.
One of the main problems in jails is a tremendous turnover rate, which also causes them to be hugely overcrowded. For some convicts, jail is a place where they await transportation to prison. Those who are convicted with a minor crime can be put in the same cell with dangerous criminals. This contributes to a higher risk of brutal fights or any other types of physical altercations in the cell blocks. Also, inmates tend to suffer from a significant lack of proper sanitation and food. They are usually deprived of the time in the fresh air and hardly ever leave their cell blocks spending most of their time in a confined space. Obviously, the aforementioned conditions severely demoralize the accused and have been a major source of controversy for years and years.
In addition to all of that, one of the biggest challenges in jail that we haven’t mentioned yet is the visitation conditions. The inmates deal with the visitation either through the video screen or an inch-thick Plexiglas with a possibility of a phone receiver. This particular problem deprives the convicts of proper communication with loved ones. Overall, the living conditions in jail are considered to be absolutely unbearable and can take a toll on the inmates.
Despite being a place, where serious criminals are sent to serve their long sentences, prison offers relatively good incarceration conditions comparing to the ones in jail. One of the main differences is the time that is allowed for the prisoners to spend in the rec yard. In some prisons, inmates spend most of their time outside their cells exercising in a well-equipped gym and playing basketball. For prisoners, a rec yard is a place for the interaction and communication which might possibly lead to the arrangement of gambling or smuggling of unavailable products. Also, prisoners may spend their time in the prison libraries.
Most prisons have canteens where inmates are allowed to eat their meals together. The quality of prison food is considered to be relatively higher than the one in jails. What is more, the prisoners have contact visitations where they sit at a table with the loved ones face-to-face. It goes without saying that the conditions of incarceration depend on a state the convict is going to serve his punishment in and, what is more important, on the crime he was convicted of.