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Differences Between Jail and Prison

While both prison and jail are often used as interchangeable generic terms, there are marked differences between the two in the governing body, types of inmates and services offered. Many other differences separate jails and prisons but all are meant to protect and restrict the rights of prisoners and fulfill the legal obligation of government agencies to keep the peace and incarcerate lawful detainees.
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Jail and Prison Management

The first distinction, which serves as an indicator of scope and resources, is that jails are, on average, single units operated by local law enforcement like police and sheriff's offices while prisons may have hundreds of individual units or "farms" that are operated or managed by state agencies designated "Department of Corrections" or something very similar. Between the two are regional that are governed by a cooperative board or staff and provide services to multiple counties and municipalities surrounding them and private facilities which can serve either state or local needs.

Types of Prisoners They Confine

The next important difference between jails and prisons are the people they house. By definition, un-sentenced individuals are "Detainees" and those who have been convicted are "Offenders". Local corrections facilities are smaller and meant to house and manage criminal detainees and those offenders who are serving short-term sentences for petty and misdemeanor crimes; these have titles that can include jail, detention center, corrections facility and even prison; there is no rule that determines the designation. With offenders convicted of felony crimes there is a need for long-term housing which is why state prisons have the duty to maintain larger and often more substantial or self-sustaining living arrangements where prisoners can spend years rather than days or months.

Services Offered To Inmates

Services provided by correctional facilities vary from limited self-help classes and religious services which are very common at the local level and can supported by the area community to elaborate vocational training and college education which is more typical of the larger, state funded programs that employ professionals and laypersons to provide activities and rehabilitation for felony offenders, most of whom have the possibility of release to rejoin free society. Many states also operate prison industries which provides opportunities for job training previously mentioned and generate additional revenue to lessen the burden on taxpayers; some allow inmates to earn money for purchasing hygiene products or other items sold on commissary. In any correctional institution the services provided are important to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety experienced by offenders.

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