true crime

Jail vs. prison…

Special thanks to Eric Perlin on Pixabay for allowing me to use his picture of jail bars.

There’s a lot I could write about today… but instead, I think I’ll write about the difference between jail versus prison. There seems to be some confusion in the wake of Felicity Huffman’s fourteen day prison sentence. Bear in mind, I have never been arrested myself, so I only know about this subject because I’ve read a lot about jails and prisons and because I am a word nerd.

Felicity Huffman was just sentenced to fourteen days in prison for her part in the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal. She will report to prison on October 25, 2019. Huffman’s charges are federal, which means she will likely go to a federal facility, rather than a local jail. Although a lot of people interchange the terms “jail” and “prison”, they aren’t really the same thing. Both jails and prisons are places of confinement used to hold people who have run afoul of the law, but jails are usually for people awaiting trial or serving short sentences on misdemeanor charges. Prisons are generally for people who have been convicted of serious crimes. Usually people who go to prison are going to be there for over a year, but sometimes people spend shorter stints in prisons.

People are still pissed…

The Bureau of Prisons technically refers to its facilities as “institutions”, and does not operate jails. Jails are usually found in counties or cities and are usually run by local governments. Prisons are run by state governments, the federal government, or private companies. Privately run prisons are for-profit facilities contracted by a government agencies. Governments pay private companies a per diem, either for each prisoner incarcerated or each available space for a prisoner, whether or not it’s occupied.

Although some people might think prison would be much worse than jail is, I have read in several accounts that being in jail actually sucks a lot worse than being in prison does. That’s mainly because jails are, by nature, places where people come and go. Many people who are in jail are still waiting to be tried for the crimes of which they have been accused. Either that, or they are serving short sentences for relatively minor crimes. Consequently, there’s less chance to “settle in”. Prisons often have rehabilitation programs for inmates; they can take courses or get jobs. They also often have more and better facilities. Inmates are able to make their spaces more “homelike”. Jails, by contrast, don’t have as many facilities or programs because the inmates aren’t typically staying long enough to make having them worthwhile. On the other hand, if a person is incarcerated in a jail in their hometown, that might make it easier for them to have visitors.

Felicity Huffman is reportedly hoping that she will be sent to Federal Correctional Institution Dublin, in Dublin, California. This minimum security facility is located near San Francisco and the area has nice weather year long. Supposedly, it is one of the “cushiest” prisons in the country, although it will no doubt still be horrible for someone who is used to living in a big house with an infinity pool. She will have to wear a khaki uniform and keep her bed made, but she can enjoy sunbathing on the weekends. I’m sure that will be a comfort to her.

The Bureau of Prisons will decide where Huffman will go. In 2004, Martha Stewart was a federal prisoner sentenced to five months at Federal Prison Camp Alderson, a minimum security facility in West Virginia. Although the prison was known for being somewhat relaxed, Stewart has said that being a federal prisoner was “horrifying” and no one should have to go through that kind of “indignity”. When you consider the level of culture shock for people like Martha Stewart in any kind of prison, I’m sure that the experience truly is “horrifying”.

Likewise, Dance Moms star, Abby Lee Miller, also did 366 days of federal time at medium security Victorville Federal Correctional Institution in Victorville, California. Although I’m sure it was a very long year and a day for Miller, she has gotten out of prison, lost scads of weight, and is getting treatment for cancer. She has also spoken out about her experience, even going so far as to offer advice to Huffman and Lori Loughlin, who will probably also find herself behind bars for a time (if she is convicted). Miller says that she was treated badly by prison guards because of her fame. Huffman may find that staff and inmates alike treat her badly because she’s wealthy, famous, and has a short sentence. But who knows?

Anyway, I still wish Felicity Huffman lots of luck. In a couple of months, the prison experience will just be a memory and she can work on putting this mess in the past.

I’m not sure why I find this topic so interesting. I think I would rather die than be incarcerated.

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