Jail vs. Prison

OK prisoners, I said this before but I will say it again. The words “jail” and “prison” are often used interchangeably, but actually they are two different things.

01_Metalbond_Alcatraz“Jail” is a where you are kept when you are being tried for a crime, or are awaiting trial or sentencing. It is also where you actually serve your sentence for misdemeanors. Jails are generally run by counties or municipalities. Jail is where you go when you get arrested. If you are OJ Simpson, jail is where you go when you are unjustly accused of double murder and have to go on trial in Los Angeles. Of course everyone knows he was completely innocent, so they released him from jail.

“Prison” on the other hand is a broad term that describes a variety of institutions, from maximum-security “penitentiaries,” to medium-security lockups known as “correctional facilities” or “correctional institutions.” Prisons are run by the states or the federal government. Prison is where you go to serve your sentence when you have been convicted of a felony. It is where O.J. ended up after being convicted of something in Las Vegas, nobody really remembers what but apparently it was serious. Prison is where you do hard time. It is where you get tattoos. Prison is where you get fucked by Christopher Meloni in the shower.

Now that you know all this, you will probably start to notice all sorts of incorrect uses of these words in news broadcasts, on TV shows, in movies and in general conversation. Before you get your cuffs all in a twist and start emailing me, accusing ME of misusing the terms “jail” and “prison,” hang on. I know I have probably violated these rules myself on this very blog.


Here are some more pictures of jails and prisons and the men who dwell in them:





One thought on “Jail vs. Prison”

  1. Here in the UK we don’t have the differentiation between jail and prison and the two words do refer to the same thing. In the same way, whether you are pre-trial, waiting for sentencing or serving the sentence you can be held in the same institutions.

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