Frequently Asked Questions about Jails, Prisons and Inmates

What is a JAIL?
(or Detention Center)

Jails or Detention Centers are facilities in which inmates (adults and juveniles) are forcibly confined and denied a variety of freedoms as a form of punishment.

Most inmates are either accused of committing a crime and haven’t been convicted yet of the crime they’ve been charged with. The rest inmates are serving a sentence after conviction (less than one year).

Jurisdiction: Run by the county sheriff’s department.


A State Prison is a facility designed to house and rehabilitate people convicted of breaking state laws.

Most inmates are serving from one year to life incarcerated.
There are both minimum and maximum security prisons, depending on the nature of the crimes committed by inmates.
These prisons also house criminals convicted in a state court and given the death penalty.

Jurisdiction: Run by the Prisons and Corrections office in the respective states.


Federal Prisons are used for people convicted for violating Federal laws and fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Federal Government, as opposed to a state or provincial body.
There are several different categories of Federal Prisons, explained below.

Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP)
The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is a United States federal law enforcement agency, responsible for the administration of the of the federal prison system. BOP is a subdivision of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Federal prisons house people convicted of breaking federal laws and ordered to serve from one year to life incarcerated.
These prisons also house criminals convicted in a federal court and given the death penalty, and those who crossed state lines in the commission of the crime or affected an institution under the authority of the federal government, such as a federally insured bank or the US Postal Service.

Jurisdiction: United States Government

U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is an American federal law enforcement agency under the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for identifying, investigating, and dismantling vulnerabilities regarding the nation’s border, economic, transportation, and infrastructure security.

ICE facilities house people who are found to be in the U.S. illegally but have not committed a crime that would put them under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Prisons are held in these facilities until their case is heard yet.
ICE Facilities are primarily temporary holding facilities and a large amount of inmates is transferred between these facilities on a regular basis.
ICE is in close cooperation with the BOP, State Prisons, County and City Jails on matters involving the detention and transfer of illegal immigrants. ICE has the distinction of being the only detention program among others that keeps all the members of detained families in the same facility if possible.

Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is an agency of the federal government of the United States within the U.S. Department of the Interior.
It is one of two bureaus under the jurisdiction of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs.
These facilities house people that are arrested, being held of convicted of crimes that require short term incarceration on Native American controlled land (reservations).
These jails, detention centers and holding facilities are managed by the Native American Tribe that controls the land held in trust where the crime was committed.
Those offenders that have been convicted and sentenced to serve more than one year incarcerated, are transferred in Federal Bureau of Prisons facilities.

Jurisdiction: Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs

U.S. Military Prisons and Jails
Military prisons and Jails are operated by the military. In Military prisons are housed prisoners of war, enemy combatants, those whose freedom is deemed a national security risk by the military or national authorities, and members of the military found guilty of a serious crime.
Military prisons are of two types: penal, for punishing and attempting to reform members of the U.S. Military who are being detained or serving sentences for crimes committed on a military base or in foreign lands where they are under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Military, and confinement-oriented, where captured enemies are confined for military reasons until hostilities cease.

U.S. Enemy Combatants – High Value Detainees (HVD)
U.S. Enemy Combatants are unlawful combatants, a category of persons who do not qualify for prisoner-of-war status under the Geneva Conventions, people from other nations who have declared war on the United States and are held by the U.S. Government or U.S. Military.
In times of War, or the current War on Terror nowadays these facilities hold high value detainees.


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