May 04, 2022 by Anthony Riccio
Prison is never a place someone wants to land in for a time, but knowing the differences and similarities between state and federal prisons may help in preparation for what to expect in Massachusetts. Think of this as the safest way to tour the inside of these two types of prisons.
The main difference, of course, is in the name; state prisons are managed by the state, while the federal government owns federal prisons. However, there are further differences, similarities, and definitions to explore.
Note: Both federal and state prisons are different from jails, which are normally owned and operated by a city or county and incarcerate inmates for shorter periods of time (mostly under a year). Jails are also sometimes used as a local holding cell to keep suspects detained while they await a trial or sentencing hearing.
Operated by the federal government, a federal prison, or federal correctional institution (FCI), houses inmates convicted of breaking federal laws or committing federal crimes. Falling under the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) agency is set up to manage and regulate all federal penal and correctional institutions. Currently, there are 122 federal prisons throughout the United States that house more than 151,000 inmates.
There are five levels of security within the federal prison system, which are (in incremental order):
Overall, prisoners doing time in federal prisons:
Inmates are tried and sentenced in federal court, with prison sentences averaging 166 months. Federal crimes can include:
State prisons are operated by the state’s Department of Corrections and house criminals who have broken state laws. There are currently more than 1 million inmates locked up in 1,566 state prisons throughout the United States.
Inmates in state prisons are tried and sentenced in that state’s criminal justice system, with prison sentences averaging just shy of three years. While generally more violent than federal prisons, state prisons allow inmates the freedom to meet and visit with family members, go out on parole, or have a conjugal visit.
Examples of these more violent crimes (from the most convictions in the U.S. to the least) include:
Security in these state prisons is categorized into three levels, which include:
In addition to what has already been discussed, more differences between federal and state prisons is that federal prisons are typically less populated than state prisons, and they will usually have more security. This, oddly enough, means they are seen as “safer” for the inmates held within. Federal prisons statistically have less violence than state prisons.
There are more state prisons in the US, though federal prison terms are typically shorter than state prison terms.
We have delved into the many differences between federal and state prisons, but the two do share a few common characteristics, which include that they both:
Together, both federal and state prison systems house nearly 2 million inmates in 1,566 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 2,850 local jails, 1,510 juvenile correctional facilities, and 186 immigration detention facilities, as well as in military prisons, civil commitment centers, state psychiatric hospitals, and prisons in the U.S. territories until they fulfill their prison sentence or seek out a reduced sentencing with a defense lawyer before that.