Every year, more than ten million people in America are arrested for a plethora of crimes. These can range from violent crimes to burglary, to illegal gambling. However, if you or a loved one gets arrested, you won't immediately end up in state prison.
Some arrestees will be released on bail or may have their charges dropped. If you cannot post bail and your charges stand then you will face time in one of the nation's county jails.
So what are county jails and how do they differ from state prisons? If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges then understanding this system can really help.
In that case, you've come to the right place! Read on to find out everything you need to know about county jails in America.
What Are County Jails?
County jails are responsible for holding criminals or those suspected of criminal activity. After an arrest, you can end up in county jail for one of two reasons.
- You have been convicted of a crime.
- You are awaiting trial for a crime.
These facilities generally do not hold inmates for long periods of time. There are currently more than 3,200 county jails operating across America.
County jails are generally acknowledged to be easier-going than state detention centers. These are places where criminals have a "time out" before moving on to another facility or receiving their trial verdict.
These centers generally only house people with minor convictions, who do not require maximum security. Because of this, the turnover of inmates in county jails is fairly high.
Who Can End Up in a County Jail?
If you receive a charge for criminal activity then you will most likely face a stay in county jail. You will stay here until a judge has set bail for you.
If you are able to post bail (or do this with the help of family or friends) then you will be able to leave county jail. However, if you cannot, then you will remain in the county jail until your trial is complete. After this, you may remain in county jail or receive a transfer to another facility.
Misdemeanor crimes and minor convictions tend to come with short sentences. If a court convicts you of one of these crimes you will likely stay in county jail. If you are facing a sentence of more than 12 months then you will generally transfer to state prison.
On some occasions, a judge will deem a criminal too dangerous to be held in county jail. In that case, they will automatically transfer you to a higher-security facility. This usually applies to people with a history of violent criminal activity.
How Does Your Crime Affect Where You End Up?
If you are convicted of a crime, you may stay in county jail. However, this depends a lot on the nature of your conviction.
People who have committed misdemeanors are more likely to spend their sentence in county jail. Sentences for these minor crimes tend to result in three, six, or twelve-month sentences. If you spend time in county jail for a misdemeanor then you may be able to get this expunged from your record in the future.
If you are convicted of a felony this is much more serious. Some examples of felonies include:
- Physical or sexual assaults
- Selling or supplying illegal drugs
- Theft of property worth $500 or more
- Indecent exposure
- Homicide or murder (including homicide as the result of a car accident)
Anyone convicted of a felony will spend at least one year in state prison and may face financial sanctions as well. So what is the difference between a county jail and a state prison?
Jails vs. Prisons: What Are the Differences?
There are currently more than 2.19 million people in the American criminal justice system. The majority of these people are serving time in state prison.
These prisons are responsible for housing "dangerous criminals" who cannot stay in county jail. Often they have committed felonies or have a history of violent behavior. Because of this, prisons have much more rigorous security and staff training in place.
They are also generally designed to house prisoners for longer. Some inmates may remain in the same prison for more than 20 years at a time. This means that state prisons use up a lot more resources than county jails do, which is one of the reasons why both holding facilities exist.
In most cases, it will save the state a lot of money to hold an inmate in a county jail compared to a state prison. So the majority of judges will try to sentence minor criminals to county jails.
There are also different people in charge of county jails and state prisons. Prisons are under the jurisdiction of the state. In comparison, county jail jurisdiction falls to the local government in your municipality.
What Rights Do County Inmates Have?
Spending time in jail is obviously a punishment and part of this involves stripping inmates of their rights and privileges. For example, inmates do not have the right to privacy, property, or a minimum working wage.
However, inmates in county jail still have basic human rights. These should be acknowledged and protected by the people in charge of a facility.
For example, every inmate in county jail has the right to:
- Live free from the threat of inhumane treatment or cruel punishments
- Live free from the threat of sexual harassment or sex crimes
- Complain about their living conditions
- Access medical care (including mental health support and dental care)
- Access the legal system and courts
- Have their accessibility requirements met by the facility caring for them
- Free speech, as outlined in the First Amendment
- Live free from discrimination
- Due process
All inmates also have the right to legal representation. All county jails should offer inmates a defense lawyer free of charge.
You may choose to use this lawyer or hire your own. Hiring your own lawyer is always going to be more expensive. However, they may have more time and resources to pour into your case if you are waiting for trial.
A lot of criminal lawyers also don't charge unless they win a case. So you may want to look into your options before you accept the state-appointed defense.
How Long Can You Be Held in County Jail?
When it comes to arrests and charging times, there are plenty of restrictions on how long the police can hold you. For example, they must charge you with a crime within a certain period of time to hold you in jail.
However, once you are in there, there is no limit on jail holding time. Generally, you have to wait for as long as it takes to secure a date for your trial. You may be waiting longer if this is rescheduled for any reason.
You can also be held in county jail indefinitely without any charges if the police classify you as a material witness. That said, for them to do this, they also need to provide evidence that you are a flight risk. If they cannot do this then you can appeal your detainment with the court.
If you have been convicted of a crime, you will need to serve the county jail sentence outlined by the judge. In some cases, you may be able to reduce your sentence by attending certain rehabilitation courses and displaying good behavior.
Similarly, poor behavior may result in your sentence being extended. For example, causing disruption or violent outbursts in county jail may prolong your sentence. In some cases, this may also result in a transfer to state prison.
Get Help Navigating the Jail System Today
As you can see, incarceration in county jails is very different from a state jail sentence. The majority of inmates will spend at least some of their sentence in county jail even if they are just awaiting trial! Then a judge will make a decision on where they spend the rest of their sentence.
However, this also means that it is difficult to keep track of where your loved one is in the criminal justice system. The last thing you want is for them to be transferred without knowing about it. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can track down a person without America's criminal justice system.
If you have a loved one in America's criminal system at the moment, knowing where they are could give you some real peace of mind. For help tracking them down, start an inmate search today. We're here to help!