Prisons are designed to house people who have broken the law and to remove them from free society. Inmates are locked away for a set period of time and have very limited freedoms during their incarceration. While every prison serves the same basic purpose, there are many different types of prisons.
An individual under the age of 18 is considered a juvenile. Anyone who is not of a legal age is never locked up in a general prison with adults. They are instead placed in a facility that is designed exclusively for juveniles.
Minimum, Medium, and High Security
Minimum security prisons are usually reserved for white collar criminals who have committed acts such as embezzlement or fraud. Although these are serious crimes, they are non-violent in nature and therefore the perpetrators are not considered to be a risk for violence. These perpetrators are sent to facilities that offer a dormitory-type living environment, fewer guards, and more personal freedoms.
Medium security prisons are the standard facilities used to house most criminals. They feature cage-style housing, armed guards, and a much more regimented daily routine than minimum security.
High security prisons are reserved for the most violent and dangerous offenders. These prisons include far more guards than both minimum and medium security, and very little freedom. Each person confined to such a prison is considered to be a high-risk individual.
Law-breakers who are deemed to be mentally unfit are sent to psychiatric prisons that are designed with resemblances to hospitals. Once there, the inmates, or patients, receive psychiatric help for their mental disorders. As with any prison that pursues methods of rehabilitation, psychiatric prisons are intended to try and help people as opposed to just confining them as a means of punishment.
Every branch of military has its own prison facilities that are used specifically for military personnel who have broken laws that affect national security, or to house prisoners of war. The treatment of these prisoners has been a subject of much debate in recent times, and the definition of torture for enemy combatants has become a controversial and often discussed topic.
Federal v State
Federal prisons are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), a subsidiary of the Department of Justice. If the crime the prisoner committed is federal, they will likely end up in federal prison. The exception is violent crimes, which are usually dealt with by state prisons. The federal prison system was started with the Three Prisons Act of 1891. The law created the first three federal prisons at Leavenworth, Kansas, Atlanta, Georgia, and McNeil Island, Washington. State prisons are more numerous than federal prisons. As incarceration became the standard form of punishment in the US, states began creating their own similar but unique prison systems. Each state determines how its correctional system will function.
The main difference besides offence between state and federal prison is the amount time served of a sentence. Federal prisons prohibit parole, so the amount of time served is significantly higher than the average time served in a state prison.
Jail v Prison
Jail is a locally-operated, short term facility where as prison is a state or federally operated, long term facility. Jails are mainly used for detaining inmates awaiting trial or sentencing. They can also house inmates who have been sentenced for less than a year. This will vary depending on the state. Prisons are long term facilities used after sentencing, where felons and inmates are housed for more than a year. These sentencing guidelines may vary by state. In six states there is an integrated corrections system of jails and prisons.