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The Difference Between Jail and Prison

Even for many of those whose loved ones are incarcerated, the terms ‘jail’ and ‘prison’ are one-in-the-same, and this is far from the truth.

Even Wikipedia has this wrong:

A prison (from Old French prisoun)[1] is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime. Other terms are penitentiary, correctional facility, remand center, detention center and gaol (or jail).

A State penitentiary is not a jail. However, unfortunately, for the many thousands of non-violent State inmates being held for years at a time in harsh and crippling county jail conditions, with no hope of transfer to prison, jails are being used as prisons. They were not initially intended as such. Jails  are supposed to be temporary holding facilities. This is no longer true.

Can you imagine being in a situation where you beg, each and every day, just to get to prison?

Take a look at this chilling special report by Greg Belzley:

His list of horrors is not comprehensive. For example, pregnant women, and their babies, have died or nearly died, in county jails. And while he states that “Mentally disturbed inmates are denied medication and counseling, and are simply locked away in solitary confinement,”  he  left out this:…where they are left to sit in their own urine or feces, fired upon with pepper spray, and left alone screaming for help day after day, without ever being out of solitary for even one of twenty-four hours, because that one hour rec thing that everyone assumes inmates get, is bullshit… And the part where we are quietly locking up the mentally ill, so that prisons are not prisons any more. They are assisted living for the mentally ill, only the ‘assistance’ is coming from other inmates. Inmates push the wheelchairs. Inmates clean the urine. Inmates offer the verbal comfort. Correct me if I am wrong anyone? Is Willard in upstate New York a prison now? Willard, a huge facility, used to be a mental institution. Now it is a prison (google).

Professor Robert Lawson (University of Kentucky Law Professor, textbook author (subject of evidence), author of many articles on jail and prison conditions, NACDL member and expert says (quoted in summary form, source above):

“Most chilling is [Professor Lawson’s] description of the life of state inmates in county jails that were never intended to be long-term incarceration facilities. They lack privacy, natural light, exercise, access to the outdoors…”  -snip-  “With little more personal space than the square footage of their bedding, inmates spend their days playing cards, watching TV, or lying on mat- either in a bunk or on the floor.”

Why are hundreds of thousands of Class D non-violent offenders (most are drug war casualties) doing the hardest time imaginable for anyone to do: county jail time? What possible chance do these inmates ever have upon release? (Bear in mind that all education programs for Class Ds in Kentucky have been de-funded. Even GED prep. That’s right).

If I say any more I will go off the rails. My intention was to clarify for everyone that jails and prisons are vastly different, and that jail time is orders of magnitude more harsh than prison time, yet, since jail is where more and more non-violent offenders languish, and since jails are becoming prisons now, people misunderstand the terms.

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