What is the difference between jail and prison?

Jails and prisons are similar in that they are both used to incarcerate people. But they really serve different functions.

A prison houses inmates who have already been sentenced and have received a sentence of more than one-year incarceration. Around the courthouse, you might hear people talking about doing “a year and a day.” The “day” is what causes you to do your time in a prison, rather than a jail.

Jail is for people who have been arrested, but not convicted and who have not been able to make bail. It is also for individuals who have been convicted of a crime but have been sentenced to a year or less of incarceration.

Different consequences apply if you serve your time in a prison. For example, if you are released from a prison and commit certain crimes (like robbery, sexual battery, burglary) within three years of your release, you will be subjected to the Prison Releasee Reoffender statute. That statute requires the judge impose the maximum sentence to be served without gained time if you are convicted of any of these enumerated offenses. This law doesn’t apply if you did your time in jail.

Another example can be found in the Jimmy Ryce statute. That law allows the state to have certain sexual offenders civilly committed following a prison sentence if they can show the person has been convicted of a sexually violent offense, and they are set to be released from prison. The Jimmy Ryce law does not apply if you do your time in the county jail.

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