When accused of a crime, many people immediately begin to think about the possible consequences that could result from a conviction. If you are currently facing criminal charges, you may worry about fines and going to jail. Or prison. What’s the difference?

Though it is common for people to use “jail” and “prison” as if they are the same term, the two words do have different meanings. As your case proceeds, understanding the difference between going to jail and going to prison may be useful to you.

Different types of facilities

The main difference between jail and prison is that they serve different purposes. If authorities believe that you committed a relatively minor crime, you could end up sentenced to time in jail. Typically, a jail is a smaller facility than a prison and is used for temporary holding. After a recent arrest, you may go to jail, which is typically run by a county sheriff department. If you end up convicted of the charges and your sentence involves incarceration for less than one year, you could remain in jail.

If you are facing a felony charge, a conviction could result in time in prison. Prison is different from jail in that a prison typically holds individuals convicted of more serious crimes and whose incarceration is sentenced to last longer than one year. If convicted of breaking a state law, you could go to a state-run prison, and if convicted of a federal crime, you could end up in a federal-run facility. Prisons also typically have more amenities than jails because individuals will spend more time there.

Other terms

You may also hear other terms associated with detainment. For instance, “lockup” refers to a temporary detainment usually located at a police department. Lockup can hold a variety of people, including those who have been arrested but have not posted bail or those waiting to be processed into the local jail system. Additionally, you may also hear the term “penitentiary,” which is another term for prison.

Your defense

Though understanding the difference between these terms is important, you likely want to avoid any outcomes that could result in your spending time in any of these facilities. In efforts to reach a favorable outcome, you may want to gain information on your criminal defense options. The strategies that work best for your case can depend on the exact charges and other circumstances of your predicament, and going over those details with a North Carolina attorney is wise.