NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED FEDERAL LAWYERS
Federal Prison vs State Prison – What’s the Difference?
The prison system in the United States is complex, with inmates housed in federal prisons, state prisons, and local jails. Federal and state prisons have some major differences in how they operate, the types of inmates they house, and the experience inmates have while incarcerated. Here’s an in-depth look at the key differences between federal and state prisons.
How They Are Run
The main difference between federal and state prisons is how they are administered and funded.Federal prisons are run by the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), which is part of the U.S. Department of Justice. The BOP operates 122 facilities across the country. Federal prisons house inmates convicted of federal crimes – offenses that violate U.S. federal laws.State prisons are run by state departments of corrections, and each state has its own system. They house inmates convicted of state crimes – offenses that violate that particular state’s laws. There are around 1,700 state prisons across the 50 states.So in a nutshell:
- Federal prisons are administered by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and house federal inmates.
- State prisons are administered by state departments of corrections and house state inmates.
This key difference influences many other aspects of the federal and state prison systems.
Types of Inmates
Due to the types of crimes they prosecute, federal and state prisons contain very different inmate populations:
- Federal prisons mostly contain inmates convicted of federal offenses like drug trafficking, white collar crime, child pornography, and other non-violent crimes.
- State prisons contain inmates convicted of violent crimes like murder, assault, rape, robbery, and other offenses prosecuted at the state level. State prisons have a much higher percentage of violent offenders than federal prisons.
So in general, federal prisons house less dangerous inmates than state prisons.
Prison Conditions and Safety
The type of inmates housed in federal vs state prisons also leads to differences in prison conditions and safety levels.Federal prisons tend to be less crowded, better funded, and more strictly controlled than state prisons. This allows them to provide better living conditions and more safety from inmate violence.However, state prisons can vary widely in funding, overcrowding, gang activity, and violence levels depending on the state. Some state prison systems are relatively safe and provide decent living conditions. But others are overcrowded, understaffed, and dominated by gangs, making them extremely dangerous for both inmates and guards.So while federal prisons offer safer and more humane conditions overall, some state prisons can be just as safe while others are very dangerous. It depends on how well the state manages its prison population and facilities.
Sentencing and Release
Another major difference is that federal prison sentences tend to be longer overall, but inmates serve a higher percentage of their sentence before release:
- Federal inmates serve about 85% of their sentence on average before being released. This is because there is no parole in the federal system. The only early release is a maximum 15% reduction for good behavior.
- State inmates often serve just 50-60% of their sentence due to parole boards granting early release. But their sentences tend to be shorter for equivalent crimes prosecuted at the federal level.
So a federal inmate may receive a 10 year sentence for a drug trafficking conviction, be released after 8.5 years, and not face parole supervision.A state inmate could receive a 6 year sentence for the same crime, be paroled after 3-4 years, but remain under parole supervision for several years after release.
Rehabilitation and Privileges
Federal prisons generally provide better rehabilitation programs and education opportunities to inmates aimed at reducing recidivism. However, state prisons have been improving their offerings in recent years.Federal inmates are also more likely to be allowed privileges like television, recreational activities, and the ability to move between areas of the prison. State prisons tend to have more restrictions and lockdowns confining inmates to their cell.But as with other aspects, privileges and freedom of movement can vary widely between different state prison systems.
Unlike state prisons, federal prisons are not limited to one particular state. The BOP assigns federal inmates to facilities anywhere in the country based on available space, security needs, and other factors.So it’s possible for a federal inmate to serve their sentence clear across the country from where they lived and committed their crime. This makes it harder for federal inmates to receive visits from family and friends.State inmates tend to be placed in a prison located in the state where their crime occurred. So they don’t usually face being transferred far away from loved ones.
The main differences between federal and state prisons include:
- Federal prisons house inmates convicted of federal crimes, while state prisons house those convicted of state crimes.
- Federal prisons generally have better funded facilities, safer conditions, and less violent inmates than state prisons.
- However, some state prisons are well-managed and safe while others are overcrowded and dangerous.
- Federal inmates serve a higher percentage of their sentence while state inmates are more likely to be paroled early.
- Federal prisons have better rehabilitation programs and privileges, but state prisons are improving in these areas.
So while federal prison is preferable overall, a well-run state prison can potentially provide similar safety, conditions, and programming. But the state prison system continues to face challenges with overcrowding, funding, and violence in many facilities across the country.