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Jail and Prison Essay

Many people in the United States do not know that there are differences between jail and prison and what they are. Local jurisdictions, such as counties and cities, use jails to detain offenders for short periods of time. A prison, or penitentiary, is controlled by the state, and is used to detain convicted criminals for longer duration (Schmallenger, 2011).

A jail is designed for short term offenders, and has more amenities than a prison. Jails house individuals who have been convicted to serve a short sentence, usually one year or less, detain individuals awaiting trial, waiting to pay bail or denied bail, and detainees held on suspicion of committing a crime. Most jails are designed to hold a very small number of criminals, and have low security when compared to prisons. As an example, the Durango Jail in Phoenix, Arizona, houses approximately 2,214 inmates.

They provide a general-purpose day room area with seating areas, and a bathroom area with sinks, toilets, and showers, and have two large outside areas for recreation. The jail also includes a medical clinic, chapel and education classrooms where inmates can attend scheduled religious and educational programs throughout the day (“Mcso”, 2013). Jails play an important role in the criminal justice system, and without them, there would not be a place to hold these short term inmates and offenders.

A prison is much larger than a jail, and capable of handling far more prisoners. The prisoners are typically categorized and separated on the basis of the types of crimes that they have been convicted of as a safety precaution, and there are three types of prisons: minimum security, medium security, and maximum security. Minimum security inmates often have private rooms and have the ability to walk around more freely, as well as commissary visits to purchase candy and tobacco.

Medium security prisons are more dorm-like and have walled recreation areas. Maximum security prisons have more barriers, towers, armed guards, and inmates have far less free time and open areas. According to “Arizona Department of Corrections” (2013), the Tucson Prison Complex in Tucson, Arizona, currently has a total population of approximately 3,700 inmates and a capacity to hold up to 5,170 inmates.
Amenities include exercise areas, common areas for eating and socializing in lower security areas, church facilities, and an educational facility (Schmallenger, 2011).

Because of the long duration of most prison sentences, a complex social, and political structure arises among the prisoners. Prisoners form cliques and strive to create their dominance inside the fences and walls. Prison culture and subculture affect the daily lives of inmates from the moment they step foot in to a prison. Inmates are defined by their position, or hierarchy, and are fueled by having power over others and their reputation is at stake.

Bartering items such as tobacco, food, drugs and makeshift weapons is a way of gaining power, as well as using sexual force and dominance (Schmallenger, 2011). Groups are formed, gangs are created and multiplied, and are often based on race, ethnicity, religion and who you were involved with outside of the prison gates. Due to these subcultures, violent crimes occur, the STD rate increases and the prison medical costs increase. Placing offenders on probation or parole may effect the statistics, but not by much, as occurrences and violence are always ongoing.

Probation, an alternative form of sentencing, allows convicted offenders to avoid jail time. They are released back into the community, but must follow a strict set of rules. Rules can include curfew, maintaining a job, and checking in with a probation officer regularly. Probation is a beneficial tool for the community, as it allows offenders to become positive role models in society by participating in community service as well as saving tax payer dollars on potentially unnecessary prison costs. Parole is governed by the executive branch and is the conditional release of a convict who has served part of his term in prison (University of Phoenix, 2011).

The primary purpose is to return offenders gradually to productive lives and are usually granted by a parole board to a prisoner with a good record and good conduct while in prison. Sentencing offenders to probation or releasing individuals on parole can free up thousands of dollars annually, as it can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $60,000 per year to house an inmate (CNN Money, 2013). There are also a few other alternatives to probation and parole that are also beneficial, such as drug treatment facilities, houseĀ arrest and electronic monitoring, halfway houses, boot camp prisons, and work-release programs.

Jails and prisons, as a part of the criminal justice system, play an important role in society. By deterring crime, securing criminals, and attempting to rehabilitate those who have broken the law, they not only educate society, but make an example of those who successfully have completed sentencing and rehabilitation and have made themselves flourishing products of society.


MCSO. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.mcso.org/JailInformation/Durango.aspx Schmallenger, F. (2011). Criminal Justice Today. An Introductory Text for the 21st Century
(11th ed.). : Prentice Hall.
University of Phoenix. (2011). CJi Interactive. Retrieved from University of Phoenix, CJA204 website. Arizona Department of Corrections. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.azcorrections.gov/prisons/Prisca_Prisons_Tucson.aspx CNN Money. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.money.cnn.com/infographic/economy/education-vsprisoncosts/

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