The Difference Between Jail and Prison in New Jersey – Understanding an Important Sentencing Distinction

Understanding the difference between Jail and Prison is important when approaching your New Jersey criminal charge. As New Jersey crimcriminal attorneys, we are asked this often. The terms “jail” and “prison” frequently pop up in conversation and are used interchangeably. While it is common to confuse the two terms, jail and prison actually refer to separate institutions. The differences are important to understand because they carry a lot of weight for those who find themselves facing a conviction in a New Jersey courtroom.

Jail is without a doubt the less severe option. Jails are operated by the county sheriff’s department and are reserved for those who are awaiting trial or those who have been sentenced for a short amount of time. In New Jersey, this time period is 364 days or less. Serving time in jail is generally considered to be preferable to prison because the conditions are not as dangerous.

Prisons are intended to detain people who have committed more serious crimes. Those who have been convicted for a year or longer in New Jersey are sent here. Prisons can either be managed by the New Jersey Department of Corrections or the federal government. These higher government departments maintain sentencing records that are generally easier to access by the general public. The Offender Search feature on the NJ Department of Corrections website and the Inmate Finder feature on the Federal Bureau of Prisons website are two such examples. Because prisons are associated with more serious criminal activity, having an easily accessed prison record can be more harmful to job prospects.

In New Jersey, state prison can be avoided with a plea deal known as 364 days in County Jail as a condition of probation. This sentence is more desirable to people who have committed crimes that do not necessarily warrant being sent to state prison. Generally speaking, with 364 as a condition of probation, at sentencing, the Judge has the ability to sentence the defendant anywhere from 1 to 364 days in the County Prison with probation or a non-custodial sentence with probation only.

If you have any questions on the topic and would like to find out more information, contact The Morano Law Firm at 201-598-5019 or send an email to [email protected] for a free consultation.