Jails are typically county institutions. They usually operate under the authority of the county sheriff, or in some states, under a warden. Jails typically house people after they are arrested and are waiting to post bail or awaiting trial. Also jails will typically house people after they are convicted and have received a sentence of one year or less.
Difference Between Prisons and Jails
Prisons are state or federal institutions. People who have been convicted of a crime and serving a sentence of more than one year are transferred from jail to prison. In some smaller states prison and jails are combined: Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Hawaii. In jails, it is not uncommon for 60% of the population held in jails to enter and leave within 2 to 4 weeks. Only 4% of a jail’s population will go onto a prison. There are about 11 to 13 million people who cycle through jails each year, as opposed to about 2 million people in prisons.
Jails and Healthcare
It is not well understood that jails are an important locus of health care for the populations cycling through them. Compared to the general population, people in jail have high rates of mental illness, substance use disorder, and chronic and infectious diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis B and C.
To address these health challenges, jail healthcare needs to be a combination of emergency room, outpatient clinic, and hospital. A jail resembles an emergency room, during the booking process. Detainees may be injured, mentally decompensated, disoriented due to drug or alcohol use, or suffering from some unknown condition that requires immediate attention. For less pressing healthcare needs there are clinics that provide services similar to outpatient clinics in the community. For people needing long term care, some jails will have infirmaries that provide the type of care that is associated with hospitals.