Jail and Prison: Differences in Purposes

Life inside the Walls

The life inside the jails and prisons is a world of its own. It provides challenges for all people behind the walls including those on both sides of the law: the inmates and correctional officers. Prison diaries were kept by five inmates, four correctional officers and a judge; all of whom have provided in-depth accounts of their lives in the prison. Family members, lawyers and victims added to the diary accounts (Prison diaries, Radio Diaries Inc.). Audio journals recorded the sounds and the activity behind the bars: new inmates arriving, roll call, family visits, meals at the mess hall and quiet moments at night.

As a young boy, John, serving a sentence of nine years in the Polk Youth Institution in North Carolina, dreamt of becoming a police officer. Now he hates the police (Prison diaries, Radio Diaries Inc.). Life has molded a criminal who, armed with shotguns, indulged in armed robbery.

He used to receive a thrill out of his criminal acts. One day he gets a request from an inmate, who was there for murder. How he watches the new inmates with clothes and shoes in style with the prevailing trend, what the voice over the radio says and how messages over the loudspeaker direct the inmates are obvious from the diaries. Some inmates are of the opinion that being in prison will make them less active and ‘dumber’ (Prison diaries, Radio Diaries Inc.) The emotions that are stirred by letters from home and the longing for mom, the ticking off by the police officer for talking, the searching of the prisoners at times, the visits by his mom all form part of the life in the prison.

The correctional officer describes his days of duty. His diary entry tells how he is proud to wear his uniform and being spick and span when he enters his duty. The picture incites the best response from the inmates. Their calling the inmates for count time and other activities constitute the life of the officers. The inmates play basketball and the officers decide when they stop (Prison diaries, Radio Diaries Inc.).

The officer’s comment that their life behind the walls is similar in some respects to the life of the inmates. However they have only eight hours of duty. Another inmate, Cristel, has her baby in her prison. She had killed another girl. Though angry at her entry into prison, she has changed and gives her views on the life there. The prison diaries provide an interesting insight into the humans living inside the walls.

Many of them were not born to be criminals as they did not have the mentality. They were led into crime through adverse circumstances. Even during their confinement they were changing their thoughts. The correction officers in some way are having the experience of confinement, being inside the walls for eight hours together. The prison diaries provided the lifestyle of these officers who were very proud of their uniforms and job.

Jails and prisons

Confinement as a punishment varies with the type of crime committed. Prisons are institutions under the Federal or State government. Jails are under the jurisdiction of the cities or counties (Kelly, D.M., Findlaw). Society is protected by the confinement of offenders in the controlled environments of the prisons and community facilities that are safe, humane and cost efficient (Protecting society and reducing crime, bop.gov). These offenders are then changed into law-abiding citizens.

The settings of the jails or prisons depend on the inmates, the rules of the State and Federal Jurisdiction. Basic amenities comprising of food, water and toilet facilities are provided in all the institutions. Radios, televisions and books are kept by the privileged prisoners. Some are allowed extra food. The inmates may have contact with the others. They are allowed to go to the exercise yard or use an indoor exercise facility and the library. Healthy inmates are offered employment. Family visits are allowed for most of them. Inmates who are extra cordial and well-behaved are allowed the decrease of sentence as credit for the good behavior (Kelly, D.M., Findlaw).

Private jails are run by private institutions on contract from the government. They follow similar rules as in Federal prisons and jails. However this aspect has come under the attack by the community that the privatisation for profit is improper (Kelly, D.M., Findlaw).

Super-maximum security prisons are found which house inmates who are potentially dangerous and who need to be kept under lock and key for 22-23 hours of the day (Kelly, D.M., Findlaw). They are denied the privileges of meeting the other inmates for meals or exercise or prayers and are in permanent solitary confinement. Medical and mental health care, books and religious services are provided.

The new generation jails are the popular, direct supervision-type where the inmates live in units or pods built around a central common space (Kelly, D.M., Findlaw). This is so that negative behaviors are less expressed. Really dangerous criminals are not kept in such units as they may influence other inmates and lead to further crimes even under direct supervision.

Differences between jails and prisons

Jails and prisons are different in many aspects. Jail is a place for the confinement of persons in lawful detention and prison is a place where people convicted are confined (Halls, aca.org.). Jails are therefore presumed to have under-trials and prisons have convicted people. They show a bigger turnover, about 36 times and prisons only around two times. The safety and well being of people are maintained by jails and prisons. The procedure by which a person enters jail is more dramatic and maybe sudden too. However the shift from jails to prisons may be slower. The procedure in both the

reception areas remain the same. The staff in the jails is more alert to the general health, both emotional and physical, of the admissions. Some of the inmates, being rivals, cannot be kept together (Hall, aca.org). Potential incompatibility, possibility of drug ingestion, risk of suicide, mental instability and diseases like tuberculosis need to be considered as factors which could make the work of the staff in the jails a heavy one. The entry of a person into prison is less harrowing an experience. The changeover is smoother. The inmates in a jail may be undergoing shorter sentences and this results in frequent daily release of inmates. The prisons keep their inmates for longer periods (Hall, aca.org).

Programming activities are provided so that inmates have a lesser chance of returning to the jail or prison. The jail personnel have their work increased if drug addicted persons are the inmates especially if the sentence is short. The programmes which aim at recovery are “challenging, innovative and flexible” (Hall, aca.org). The aim is to ensure that the inmates are ready for reentry into society as capable and productive citizens. The sharing of information and experiences of the staff of jails and prisons help them be ready for the constantly changing population.

Programs offered to prepare inmates for release

Among the many programmes offered for the inmates, the release preparation programme helps the inmates to prepare to return to society and secure a job (Federal Bureau of Prisons, US Department of Justice). The Federal Prison Industries provides work experience and skills to the inmates. Vocational training and occupational educational courses are offered at the Bureau. The release preparation begins on the first day of incarceration (Federal Bureau of Prisons, US Department of Justice).

The effort intensifies 18 months before release. Resume writing, job search and job retention are some of the subjects taught in class. The inmates are placed in halfway houses to help them adjust to the society which must have changed over the years. Halfway houses are residential reentry centres (RRCs). “RRCs provide a safe, structured, supervised environment, as well as employment counseling, job placement, financial management assistance, and other programs and services” (Federal Bureau of Prisons, US Department of Justice). Release gratuity, clothes and money are provided to some inmates who are released.

The RRCs supervise the ties built by the inmates with the society and their activities in the readjustment phase. The inmate transition branch also provides employment assistance. Community recruiters are introduced to the skilled inmates. The inmates are also helped in keeping ready various documents required for interviews (Federal Bureau of Prisons, US Department of Justice).


Federal Bureau of Prisons, “Release Preparation”. Web.

Hall, D., Jails versus prisons: Commentary. Web.

Kelly, D.M., Jails and Prisons: Types and Kinds. Web.

Prison diaries. 2009. Radio Diaries Inc. Web.

Protecting society and reducing crime. Web.

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