Difference Between Jail and Prison

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: May 28, 2023


Difference Between Jail and Prison

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Crime is a term which means an unlawful act punishable by the state or concerned authority. Different fields like politics, psychology, sociology, and law define crime in varied ways. When a crime is committed, the convict gets a punishment according to the intensity and severity of the crime according to the law.

Punishment is some sort of pain or loss inflicted upon the criminal for his misdeed. Punishment has been a matter of argument among philosophers, political leaders, and lawyers for centuries. Various theories of punishment have developed, each of which endeavors to justify the method in some form and state its proper objectives. Some types of Punishments have been described below briefly:

  • Forfeiture of Property - The government captures all the property or assets of the convicted under this punishment. The seized property or asset can be movable or immovable. 
  • Penalty - The convict has to pay a fine as a punishment for the offence. It is a monetary punishment. If he fails to pay the fine, it may lead to imprisonment as per the court's order.
  • Imprisonment - In this punishment, the convict is sent to jail or prison, and he has no freedom of movement. The term of imprisonment will be determined by the court, based on the crime.
  • Death Penalty - The criminal is granted ‘hang till death’ punishment; it is capital punishment. This punishment is rare because the crime has to be severe. Life imprisonment is considered a more fair option for such convicts.
  • Solitary confinement - This punishment is for those convicts who pose a danger even if they are in jail or prison. In this punishment, the criminal is kept in an isolated place, away from any interaction with people. 

Jail vs Prison

Jail and Prison' are separate entities, which are mistaken to be the same. The similarity is that they both are for punishing law offenders. One of the key differences between Jail and Prison is the duration of the imprisonment. In Prison, the offender is confined for the long term whereas, in Jail, the prisoner is kept for a comparatively shorter duration. A large population of the people kept in jails are in the pre-trial stage. They have either been denied bail or been unable to pay. In Prisons, the convicts are sentenced offenders.

Jails also suffer from budget deficits that lead to lower quality or bad food. In Prison, there is generally no budget problem. The criminals are serious offenders therefore the facilities are even better in a Prison comparatively.

Jails have fewer services than a prison. Many inmates have complained of insufficient medical care, scarcity of nutritious food, and unsuitable constraints on movement, like a lack of access to exercise. Many inmates have requested to shift from a jail to a prison for better facilities.

We will study more about their differences in the table given below.

Difference Between Jail and Prison in Tabular Form

Parameters of ComparisonJailPrison
DefinitionA Jail is a short-term confinement capacity that is characteristically run by a local government.Prisons are long-term imprisonments that are normally run by state or federal governments.
ConvictsThe convicts include those who are awaiting trial or convicted of minor crimes.The inmates of Prison include criminal with serious offences.
Type of FacilityJail is a short-term facility usually smaller in capacity.Prison is a long-term facility and comparatively larger in capacity.
Type of CriminalsIn Jail, the criminals are sentenced for a short duration, usually less than a year for smaller crimes.In a Prison, the criminals are those who have sentenced to imprisonment with more harmful crimes.
Main objectiveThe main objective of a jail is holding a convict who are waiting for their trail and judgement.Prison’s main purpose is the rehabilitation and correction of the wrong doers by keeping them away from the ordinary people.
ProgramsJails release programs and boot camps, and some offer educational- substance abuse, and vocational programs. Prisons offer different programs to inmates depending on the inmate's level of custody – Minimum, Medium, and High level.
ConditionJails tend to have more population which is temporary; therefore the facilities are less developed. Prisons are better designed for the inmates as the criminals stay for longer duration.

What is Jail?

Jail is confinement under the local government where the convict is held for a short duration, usually when his trial is in process. In short, Jail is a place where convicts who are charged or accused of a crime are held by the Police while awaiting trial.

Types of Jails

  • Central Jail - Prisoners confined for a longer period are sent to Central Jails as they have larger capacities and also have rehabilitation facilities. In India, Delhi has the highest number of Central Jails.
  • District Jail - These jails serve as the main jails in states where there is no central jail. The highest number of District Jails in India is in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Sub Jail - Sub Jails are smaller jails located at sub-divisional levels in states. 
  • Open Jail - Open Jails have least security and only convicted prisoners with decent behaviour, sustaining certain norms defined in the prison rules are acknowledged in open jails. 
  • Women's Jail - These jails are exclusively for female convicts. These jails may exist at the sub-divisional level, district, and central level. Most female prisoners are kept in types of jails due to the restricted capacity of women's jails. 
  • Borstal schools - They are exclusively for juvenile imprisonment. It assures the care, welfare, and rehabilitation of young offenders in an environment suitable for children to keep them away from the polluting atmosphere of the prison.

Cellular Jails

The Cellular Jail was a British colonial jail in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It was utilised by the Indian colonial government for deporting political prisoners and criminals. Many independence activists were sent here including Diwan Singh Kalepani, Sohan Singh, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hare Krishna Konar, Sudhanshu Das Guptan and others. The construction of the prison started in 1896 and got completed in 1906. Solitary confinement got executed as the British government of India wanted to confirm that political prisoners and revolutionaries are isolated from each other.

Cellular Jail was announced as a National Memorial by the then Prime Minister of India, Morarji Desai on 11 February 1979. The centennial of the jail's conclusion was marked on 10 March 2006. Many former convicts were celebrated at this event by the Government of India.

What is Prison?

A prison is a form of confinement in which the prisoner is held for a long duration. Prisons are used for holding people who have been convicted of serious crimes. According to Oxford English Dictionary - Prison means a location appropriately efficient and equipped for the reception of individuals who by the legal process are committed to it for safe custody while pending trial and sentence.

Types of Prisons

  • Minimum security prisons - Such prisons are secured for white-collar criminals who have committed acts like embezzlement or forgery. These crimes are non-violent therefore such criminals are not considered to be at a risk of causing violence.
  • Medium security prisons - They are standard prison facilities for housing most criminals. It features cage-style housing, armed guards, and a more disciplined daily routine than minimum security prisons.
  • High-security prisons - Such prisons get reserved for dangerous and violent criminals. These prisons have more guards than the minimum and medium security prisons. 
  • Psychiatric prisons - The criminals who are considered to be mentally unfit get sent to psychiatric prisons. The inmates there receive psychiatric treatment for their mental disorders. 
  • Military prisons - These prisons are especially for those military personnel who break the law related to national security. The conviction of these criminals has been a subject of much discussion in recent times. 

History of Prison in India

In ancient times in India, the prison was only a place of captivity where an offender got imprisoned till his trial and judgment and the execution of the decision. The system of society was based on the principles pronounced by Manu and explained by Yagnavalkya, Kautilya and others. Imprisonment was the punishment suggested in Hindu scriptures that the wrongdoer or evildoer was kept in prison to be set aside from society.

During the Mughal period, the source of law is the Quran. Crimes were divided into three groups - a crime against god, a crime against the state, crime against a private person. The punishment was also divided into four categories - Hadd, tazir, quisas and tasir. Imprisonment was not regarded as a punishment for ordinary criminals. 

In the pre-British period, there were no rules for the maintenance of prisons. The motive of the colonial rulers was to make imprisonment a terror to wrongdoers. Several endeavors were made to introduce progress in the management of the law and justice. The East India Company made steps to maintain peace and security and desired to establish its business. The British considered safeguarding the prisoners in custody as sparingly as possible and for making maximum revenue for the government. 

Main Differences Between Jail and Prison (In Points)

  • Jails are places to keep individuals who have been arrested and are awaiting trial. It is also for those who were sentenced to a crime and serving a sentence of less than one year. On the other hand, Prisons are facilities made to hold people who were charged with serious crimes and serving punishments of more than one year. 
  • Jails are generally overcrowded with criminals; with limited resources and facilities. On the contrary, Prisons have better facilities and can also hold more criminals than jails.
  • Jail inmates have limited access to education and vocational activities. It may have fewer healthcare services than the inmates in a Prison. Prisons have more facilities like libraries, gyms, educational classes, etc.
  • Jails generally focus on maintaining law and order because of fewer facilities and more population. Prisons are different in this aspect. It aims for a long-term approach for the inmates. Prisons tend to prepare the inmates for re-entry into society. They provide education and other vocational activities for the prisoners' development.
  • In Jail, the convicts include those awaiting a trial or convicted of minor crimes. In a Prison, the convicts are criminal offenders sentenced by the court for imprisonment under serious offence.
  • Prison is more restricted and disciplined than Jail. Jail's constant flow of people can often interfere with an inmate's ability to sleep, eat on a regular timetable, or partake in exercise. Prisons don't have a constant flow of offenders coming daily.


Crime is increasing day by day therefore, there are more and more offenders being sent to jails and prisons. As mentioned above in the article, Jails have poor facilities due to their population. This means the suspects and criminals are massive in number.

While both serve the same purpose of holding criminals, Jails keep the criminals or the offenders for a shorter period or maybe till their trial and judgement. Whereas, in a Prison, the convicts have been given a sentence of imprisonment therefore they are bound to be held for a longer duration based on the severity of their crimes.

In both systems, the prisoners have a right to visitation and the freedom to make outgoing calls home or to their lawyers, although they do not have the same right to privacy as regular civilians. Inmates have the basic rights of a prisoner - the right to be treated humanely, the right to access the courts, a right to medical supervision, and a right to not face any sort of discrimination (based on gender, race, religion or sexual orientation).

It is of utmost importance that the crime rate in the world as a whole must come down for preserving peace and security. In this article, we have tried to define Jail and Prison in detail along with their types. The differences between Jail and Prison are also given based on several aspects and parameters.


  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisons_in_India#Women%E2%80%99s_jail
  • https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4501-system-of-prison-its-history-and-types-in-india.html
  • https://www.johntumeltycriminaldefense.com/blog/difference-jail-prison/



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"Difference Between Jail and Prison." Diffzy.com, 2024. Tue. 09 Apr. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-jail-and-prison>.

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