How Do Jails and Prisons Differ?

One commonly discussed topic in connection with criminal offenses is incarceration. A person charged with or convicted of a crime may be confined in a correctional facility. A correctional facility can include a jail or prison, and these terms are often used interchangeably. However, they are distinct. For example, jails are typically used for housing inmates convicted of low-level offenses. In contrast, prisons are for people convicted of more serious crimes. Still, being confined in either can substantially impact a person's freedom and well-being.

At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, our Los Angeles lawyers vigorously defend our clients to seek favorable outcomes to avoid or minimize penalties. Please contact us at (800) 462-7160 to discuss your case.

Crimes in California

Incarceration is possible when a person has been charged with or convicted of a crime. California defines a few levels of offenses that can be committed, including misdemeanors and felonies.

Misdemeanors are more serious crimes than felonies. However, being charged with or convicted of either can result in time in jail or prison.

When Can a Person Be Sent to Jail?

A couple of situations exist where a person may be sent to jail. The first is after they have been arrested for a crime. The individual will be held in jail until their first court appearance. The judge may set bail at the hearing, allowing the individual to be released from custody. However, if the person cannot make bail, they must remain in jail until their case concludes.

The other way a person can be sent to jail is if they are convicted of a crime. Generally, jail is for those found guilty of misdemeanor offenses. However, some California statutes allow some felony crimes to be punishable by 16 months or 2 or 3 years in county jail.

When Can a Person Be Sent to Prison?

Like jail, prison is for those convicted of crimes. Typically, the convictions are for felony offenses. Unlike jail, prison is not used for housing people awaiting trial.

Prisons are usually divided by security levels:

  • Minimum,
  • Medium, and
  • Maximum.

Minimum security prisons are for those convicted of less serious offenses, and maximum security are for more severe crimes.

For How Long Can a Person Be Sent to Jail?

The duration of a jail stay depends on the situation. If the person has been arrested for an offense, they may remain in jail until they make bail (which could be a couple of hours or days) or until their case finishes (which could be months to years).

For a misdemeanor conviction, the duration of the jail term is based on the severity of the offense. Some crimes are punishable by time in county jail for no more than 6 months; others, by up to 1 year (or no more than 364 days). As noted previously, the term for a felony conviction for an offense punishable by confinement in county jail is 16 months or 2 or 3 years.

For How Long Can a Person Be Sent to Prison?

As with a misdemeanor, the length of a prison term will depend on the severity of the crime. Because prison is reserved for those convicted of more severe offenses, imprisonment is longer than jail, generally more than 1 year.

Many California felony statutes will list the number of years of incarceration upon a conviction. For example, first-degree robbery is punishable by 3, 6, or 9 years in prison, and first-degree murder by 25 years to life.

Who Runs Jails?

A local law enforcement agency or the local government typically runs jails. Because they house inmates for 1 year or less, they are often not as developed as prisons.

Who Runs Prisons?

The state government runs prisons. It must be noted that federal prisons also exist. These facilities are used for those convicted of federal crimes.

Have an Attorney Help with Your Case

Although prison or jail is a possibility in a criminal case, those facing charges can seek to avoid such punishments by fighting the allegations. A defense lawyer can assist in building a legal strategy ad pursue a favorable outcome on your behalf.

Schedule a consultation with one of our Los Angeles attorneys at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP by calling (800) 462-7160 or submitting an online contact form today.