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Feb 25, 2022

What’s the Difference Between Jail and Prison?

The words jail and prison are used interchangeably. However, this is a difference between the two. And if you’re facing criminal charges, it’s important to know about each one. Then, you can prepare yourself and try to fight back against the charges with the help of an experienced Oakland criminal defense attorney.

What Is Jail?

Typically, county governments that are under the county sheriff’s jurisdiction will run the jails in an area. They do not hold as many inmates as a prison would, and they are for inmates who are serving shorter sentences which are less than a year. Usually, jails are for people who have committed misdemeanor offenses. People will also be sent to jail when they are arrested for a crime.

Since people are always coming in and out of jails, they may be less structured than prisons. It can sometimes be tough for inmates to be on a set schedule because of this. Some jails will give inmates the chance to do work release or go to a boot camp so they have a better chance of not being sent back to jail in the future. For instance, someone could be serving a short sentence for petty theft and be given access to a work release program so they feel they don’t have to steal from others to make money anymore. Jails might also provide substance abuse, educational, and vocational programs to help inmates improve their lives.

What Is Prison?

Prisons are institutional facilities which the state government or Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) operate. They are for inmates who have been convicted of more serious crimes, like felonies. The inmates there will serve longer sentences than they would in prison. Some may be there for two years, while others may be there for the rest of their lives depending on the crime.

If someone breaks a state law, they will usually be sent to a state prison. If they have broken a federal law, they will be sent to a federal prison located somewhere in the United States. Sometimes, private corporations operate prisons. States will award contracts to private corporations to run prisons, but then the state won’t be able to have as much control over how the prisons are managed. Prisons range from low-security to maximum-security depending on the crimes that inmates have allegedly committed. Low-security prisons typically offer better living facilities. In prisons of all types, inmates will usually have access to large, outdoor spaces and will be given jobs to do. They may even be able to take educational courses and get their GED, for instance.

Prisons have better structures and necessities than jails because they are designed to house people in the long term. Prisoners are allowed to receive visitors and make phone calls to their loved ones or attorney, but both are supervised. The prison can record conversations and use them in an open case against the inmate.

What Is the Criminal Justice Process?

If the police believe you’ve committed a crime, they will investigate the circumstances of your situation. One of two things will happen: They will either let you off with a warning or arrest you. You may get a warning if your alleged “crime” was not as it seems. For example, maybe you were swerving your car to avoid a pothole, but the police pulled you over because they thought you were driving drunk. Once you explain the situation to them, they may let you go.

If they believe you were doing something wrong, however, they will arrest you. Sometimes, an arrest is justified and sometimes, it’s not. For instance, if the police enter your home or search your car without a warrant, and they arrest you for something they find, the charges may not hold up in court. But if they do have a warrant and find something, then the charges may be valid.

Once the police arrest you, they are required to read you your Miranda rights. If they don’t, this could cause a huge problem for them and be used against them in your case.

The police will take you to jail, where you may be surrounded by people who committed crimes. The conditions are probably going to be less than ideal. It can be intimidating to go to a jail and be face to face with dangerous people. Thankfully, you will be allowed to call someone. You can call your attorney or a loved one; just make sure you don’t say specifics about your alleged crime or arrest on the phone because the police could be listening to what you say and use it against you. In fact, you shouldn’t talk to anyone about your case except for your criminal defense attorney – when you’re out of jail. Then, you should be able to talk freely to them in person or over the phone. Just ask them what works best.

You will get an initial appearance before a magistrate, who is a judicial officer. They will tell you about you charges and your rights and might offer you bail. Bail is collateral in the form of a certain amount of money that you pay to ensure that you’re going to show up for your scheduled court date once you’re out of jail. The worse the crime, the higher the bail is usually – if you’re offered it at all. Before you post bail, you should ask your Oakland criminal defense attorney if it’s wise to do this. You may not have to.

There will be a preliminary hearing, where the judge will determine if there is enough evidence and a probable cause for why you allegedly committed a crime to keep your case going. If the case does go on, your Oakland criminal defense attorney will be given the chance to go through discovery and see the evidence the prosecutor has.

From there, you and your criminal defense attorney can decide if you want to pursue a plea bargain, where you plead guilty or no contest to some or all of your charges in exchange for a lesser sentence. For instance, instead of going to jail or prison, you might only have to go on probation. Typically, most cases end in plea bargains. This is because prosecutors are eager not to clog up the criminal justice system even more. However, your attorney may advise you to take your case to trial, where they can fight it and try to get all the charges dropped.

If you are convicted of a crime, then you may have to go to jail or prison, pay a large fine, pay restitution to your victims, and face other consequences. For instance, if it’s a sex crime, you might have to register as a sex offender as well. You may get your license suspended if the crime has to do with driving, too.

What Are the Misdemeanor Offenses in California?

There are a number of different crimes that could be misdemeanors. They include the following:

  • Shoplifting
  • Petty theft
  • Simple assault
  • Tampering with evidence
  • Being drunk in public
  • Prostitution
  • Driving under the influence, without causing an injury
  • Certain types of domestic violence
  • Driving on a suspended license
  • Drug possession

What Are the Felony Offenses in California?

There are a variety of crimes that could be felony offenses. They include the following:

  • Kidnapping
  • Robbery
  • Murder
  • Child molestation
  • Child pornography
  • Gross vehicular manslaughter
  • Lewd acts with a minor
  • Assault with a firearm
  • Carjacking
  • Attempted murder

What Are Wobbler Offenses?

Wobbler crimes are those that could be considered a misdemeanor or felony depending on the circumstances. They include the following:

  • Sexual battery
  • Burglary
  • Carrying a loaded firearm in public
  • Statutory rape
  • Forgery
  • Assault with a deadly weapon
  • Lewd acts with a minor
  • Grand theft
  • Stalking
  • Spousal battery
  • Making criminal threats

What Is Probation?

Even if the consequence of a crime you allegedly committed is jail or prison time, you may not have to go to either. You could try to get put on probation instead. Probation will let you stay in your community instead of going behind bars. You will have to adhere to court-ordered rules and be under the supervision of a probation officer. For instance, you may need to make appearances in court, stay off drugs and alcohol (and undergo drug and alcohol testing), and not go to certain places. Probation usually lasts one to three years, but it could be longer depending on the alleged crime. If you’re caught violating your probation, your probation officer could simply issue you a warning, or you may be sent to jail and/or prison and face additional consequences.

What Is Parole?

Parole is different from probation. If you already served part of your sentence in jail and prison, you may be let out and have to go on parole. You need to demonstrate good behavior in jail or prison and show the correctional officers and judge that you can safely return to society. It is up to the judge to decide whether or not you can get out of prison or jail early and go on parole instead.

Getting Help With Your Case

When you’ve been charged with a misdemeanor or a felony, you will have the option to either go with the public defender or hire your own representation in the form of an Oakland criminal defense attorney. While the former option is free, the latter option is a better move.

Public defenders are just as qualified as private representation, but they do not have the bandwidth that an Oakland criminal defense attorney will have. They are given many cases at a time and won’t have the time or energy to give their all to your case. If you have questions, they might not be available to answer them at any time. You may feel pressured to take a plea bargain instead of fighting your charges in court.

On the other hand, an Oakland criminal defense attorney will decide with you how you want to proceed. They will be available to answer your questions whenever you have them, and they’ll dedicate themselves to your case. Hiring private representation is an investment in your future, since going to jail or prison could affect you not only in the short term, but also for the rest of your life. You deserve better.

Once you’ve decided to go with an Oakland criminal defense attorney, all you need to do is research the right one for you.

Hiring an Oakland Criminal Defense Attorney

To find an Oakland criminal defense attorney, look for one who has several years of experience dealing with criminal cases, specifically with the kinds of charges you’re dealing with. Oakland criminal defense attorney Elliot Silver of Silver Law Firm just might be the perfect fit for you.

In one case, a man was facing almost certain deportation if he was convicted of a strike felony. However, with attorney Elliot Silver’s help, this didn’t happen. Elliot Silver facilitated a favorable plea agreement to a non-strike offense and credit for time served. This removed his client’s fear of deportation and essentially saved his life.

In another case, a young man was charged with robbery after an alleged purse snatching. In the process, an older victim was pushed to the ground. The client came to attorney Elliot Silver, who fought hard on his behalf and obtained a sentence that removed his fear of incarceration. Due to such effective counsel, the client only had to participate in electronic monitoring for a year. Once this time was up, he could reduce the felony conviction to a misdemeanor.

Now, Elliot is prepared to assist you as well to try and secure a favorable outcome for your case. If you’ve been charged with a crime and need help right away, reach out to Oakland criminal defense attorney Elliot Silver today at (510) 995-0000 or by emailing him at He looks forward to helping you at this time.

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