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The Difference Between Jails and Prisons in Mississippi

The words “jail” and “prison” are often used interchangeably, but in reality they are different institutions. In Mississippi and in most states, jail is a county or city facility where arrested individuals are held until they go to trial or strike a plea bargain. Prisons are where convicted offenders go to serve out their sentence.

Jails Are Generally for Defendants

Jail inmates, with a few exceptions, have not been convicted of a crime. One exception is that people who have been convicted of a minor charge such as misdemeanor with a short sentence may be allowed to serve their sentence in jail rather than in prison. Another exception is if the person cannot be subjected to the general prison population for some reason. Generally speaking, jail is a holding or detention facility, and if a defendant is able to bond out after their arrest, he or she will not have to remain in jail until the trial.

Prisons Are for Offenders

If a defendant is convicted and sentenced, he or she will become an “offender” rather than a “defendant” and will receive a DOC (Department of Corrections) #. They will then go to a prison to serve out the sentence. Prisons are state or federal facilities and are generally much tougher places than jails. Mississippi has federal prisons in Yazoo City and Natchez and three state prisons: Central Mississippi Correctional Facility in Pearl, South Mississippi Correctional Institution in Leakesville and Mississippi State Penitentiary in Parchman. In addition, there are 11 regional correctional facilities throughout Mississippi.

If you have a friend or a loved one who is incarcerated and you are not sure where they are being held, you can call the Mississippi Department of Corrections (MDOC) at 601-359-5600 or go online at and type in the inmate’s name.

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