Writing today's article about inmate voting reminded me that I wanted to explain the difference between jail and prison.
Before I started working the police beat, I thought jail and prison were synonyms. That's a common misperception.
If jail and prison were being described in one of those SAT analogies, the question might look like this:
JAIL is to PRISON as COUNTY is to
e) all of the above
Answer: C - State.
County sheriff's departments operate jails, which house people after they are arrested, while awaiting trial, and for shorter sentences.
Prisons house people who are convicted and sentenced.
The vast majority of people in local jail are unsentenced. This week, there were 1678 people in local jail, and 1164 of them had not been sentenced, according to the Sheriff's department.
The distinction between jail and prison is very important for understanding inmate voting rights because many inmates in California jails have the right to vote, but those serving sentences in state prison do not.
When you get down to the brass tacks of the law, things get complicated. People on parole are not eligible to vote, but people sentenced to felony probation are.
Parole and probation are sometimes confused, but there are significant differences.
Parole is related to state prison time. An inmate goes on parole after serving prison time.
Convicts can be sentenced to serve jail time then go on county probation, or they can simply be given probation.
Probation and parole are similar in that they include a set of conditions a person is subject to, and people on parole and probation are supervised by correctional officers who aim to make sure they don't commit new crimes. Committing a crime, in addition to being illegal, obviously, will also constitute a parole or probation violation. Probation and parole can also include search terms, which allow police to search a person without a warrant.
Because of the difference between jail and prison, it's not technically correct to call someone in jail a "prisoner."
For newspaper purposes, a person in jail is an inmate, and a person in prison is a prisoner. However, a person in prison is also an inmate.