How Long Can an Inmate Stay in County Jail?

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According to the United States Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), in 2019, county jails housed approximately 734,500 inmates. This figure included pre-trial detainees. 

If the local law enforcement incarcerates you or a family member in county jail, you may have some unanswered questions. 

What is the longest period an individual can stay in county jail? How long can you stay in county jail in states like Florida, Texas, or California is a one-stop site to search for individuals currently incarcerated in federal, state, or local jails or prisons. You can search for inmates in local correctional facilities like county jails. 

This article discusses offenders serving in county jails, the differences between state prisons and county jails, how long county jails can hold prisoners, and factors that determine how long county jails can hold you.  

This article also covers prison sentences served in county jails, alternatives to county jails, a prosecutor’s decision to charge, and the violation of the speedy trial right.

How Long Can a Judicial System Hold You in County Jail?

The county jail is often your first destination if law enforcement arrests you. This general rule is applied to both U.S. citizens and illegal immigrants. 

The case is particularly true for illegal immigrants if law enforcement agents arrest them during a traffic stop or if they have a criminal charge. 

U.S. citizens must remain in county jails until the facility releases them on a bail bond or their case concludes. A bail bond is an agreement of criminal defendants that they will appear for trial or pay the court a sum of money.

In some situations, local prisons rather than detention centers house immigrants after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency makes an arrest. 

Numerous factors impact the length of time an individual spends in county jail. If you fail eligibility for bail or cannot post bail for other reasons, you must remain in jail until the court system resolves your case. 

In addition, the reason law enforcement arrested an illegal immigrant will play a significant role in how long they must remain in the local county jails. 

Sentences to Jail

A judge determines a sentence’s length and location. They also determine whether the individual will have work release privileges. 

Meanwhile, jail operators, such as sheriffs, determine how the individual serves the jail sentence. 

More specifically, a sheriff determines whether the individual serves all or part of the sentence confined to the county jail. 

A sheriff can determine if an offender can do a portion of their sentence through home detention. 

Home detention or house arrest confines an individual to their home rather than a jail or prison. The procedure often includes electronic monitoring. 

Good Time

A judicial system can reduce a judge-imposed sentence for “good time.” 

This is an early-release procedure for “good behavior” in some sentencing regimes. In contrast, prisoners can lose privileges like phone calls for bad behavior.

In good time programs, prisoners typically receive an automatic sentence reduction. The deduction is for each day the correctional facility’s staff does not write them up for violating the prison or jail’s rules. 

Inmates can also earn good time by participating in community service projects, educational programs, or medical experiments. 

The law determines the reduction amount that can equal a particular portion of the sentence, such as one-quarter. 

If a judge sentences a person to 60 days in a county correctional facility and the inmate receives a one-quarter sentence reduction for good behavior, then they only would only serve 45 days. 

In this case, the sentence reduction is 15 days (60 ÷. 4).

The U.S. Constitution and State Time Limits

The U.S. Constitution states that after the judicial system arrests individuals, it cannot hold detainees for an unreasonable amount of time without formal charges. 

However, it does not state a particular timeframe. Hence, states usually set such limits. As a result, these limitations often vary between different states. 

If law enforcement has placed you in custody and taken you to a reception center for initial processing, your speedy trial rights usually require a prosecutor to determine charges within 72 hours. 

Several states follow this 72-hour limit. In some cases, the judicial system files no charges and releases you. 

However, while your criminal record will not have any new items, you will have an arrest record. 

Your Legal Right to Receive Notice 

If you have a loved one serving time in a local correctional facility, such as a county jail, you have the legal right to receive notice. 

You can receive notice of an adult offender’s release, including for:

  • Work release programs
  • Furlough 
  • Parole
  • Release from a community treatment center, such as for mental health issues 
  • Release from boot camp 

Factors Determining How Long County Jails Hold You

Some key factors determine how long jail or prison can hold you without charges. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has created protections for defendants, preventing you from serving long prison times before a court has issued a conviction.

In addition, speedy trial rights also reduce the time an accused individual experiences publicity and anxiety due to an impending trial. 

Such limits also minimize the adverse effects on their ability to present a defense. 

Time in Jail Depends on the Reason for Being There

One key factor related to your length of stay in county jail is why you are there. 

After law enforcement officers arrest you, you may not go to jail, or they may not take you into custody. 

These results are most common for misdemeanor crimes. This is not applied to felonies like extreme driving under the influence (DUI) or violent crimes. 

However, if law enforcement takes you into custody, you will likely complete an amount of jail time

Those Waiting to Plea, Be Tried or Be Sentenced

Jails and prisons function as holding facilities for individuals who will appear in court. Hence, individuals in jail may be:

  • Awaiting a plea
  • Awaiting a trial or sentencing 

Whether a person’s situation allows someone else to bail them out or the procedure’s timeframe impacts their time in jail. 

However, people who cannot be bailed out must wait for their first court appearance. Typically, wait time can last for a number of days. 

Those Individuals Serving Shorter, Less Serious Sentences

If a judicial system convicts you of a misdemeanor, you typically remain in jail rather than prison. 

If law enforcement arrests you and charges you with a misdemeanor, then the judicial system typically issues a court date and releases you.

Misdemeanors are less serious crimes than felonies. 

People serving jail time are usually imprisoned for less than one year. However, misdemeanor sentences can be over a year based on local laws. 

Those Awaiting Transfer

An individual is often in county jail awaiting a transfer. This temporary situation ends when transport moves the inmate to prison. 

In other cases, offenders can remain in jail while waiting for a warrant elsewhere. The timeframe is unlikely to be long. 

Serving a Prison Sentence in County Jail

A prison sentence frequently involves a long incarceration period and a long distance from friends and family. 

However, a judge may not consider the convenience of family visits when sentencing a convicted individual. 

Jail Before Sentencing

Law enforcement officers can take a person who allegedly committed a crime to county jail. 

A person who cannot post bail and obtain release will have a hearing to set bail and remain in jail. 

Possible exceptions include detainees requiring medical emergency care. A judicial system typically credits the time the individual remains in jail towards the sentence it imposes on them. 

Waiting for Justice: Unsentenced Inmates in County Jails

Three-quarters of inmates in California county jails are waiting for their arraignment, or bringing a defendant before a judge to hear charges and typically plead either guilty or not guilty, their trial, or their sentencing. 

Huber or Work Release Privileges

An individual whose sentence contains “Huber” privileges may remain outside the jail’s confines for up to 12 hours daily for:

  • Working or seeking work
  • Schooling
  • Child care 
  • Medical treatment or other treatment types 

Huber privileges are when inmates can leave prison unescorted to work outside and maintain their employment or meet other obligations.

The program requires inmates to return to the jail after the activity concludes.

Common Alternatives to County Jail

If the judicial system convicts a person, a portion of their final sentence can be to serve jail time. 

Some people have urgent responsibilities, including work, children, and medical obligations. An alternative to county jail can be available in such particular situations.

Private Jails

A private jail is a facility where a government agency issues a contract with a private organization to run the correctional facility for them. 

A private jail contains particular features of county jails, such as supervision and restriction on freedom. 

However, private jails generally provide a more relaxed environment. They are also generally cleaner than county jails and have private rooms. Private jails can also allow items like laptops and books. 

In addition, these jails can also allow individuals to serve a noncontinuous sentence. For example, convicted individuals can serve a 6-day sentence on three weekends. 

Private jails are available in several U.S. cities, including Los Angeles

Home Detention and Electronic Monitoring

A sentenced jail inmate can sometimes serve their sentence in home detention. 

A bracelet monitors the inmates’ location for public safety purposes. Thus, law enforcement officers, like county sheriffs, can always track the inmate’s whereabouts. 

Besides exceptions like work release privileges, inmates must remain at home for the remainder of the day. 

Individuals who fail to return to prison or their residences following a work release program may commit a crime of escape. 

In addition, the judicial system can return violators of home detention to jail for the remainder of their sentence. 

Offenders Serving Time in County Jails: An Overview

Counties often own jails and each state has a particular number of county jails. 

However, some counties do not possess jails. In such situations, the jurisdictions place their prisoners in another county’s jail. 

States and their counties have different guidelines for sending individuals to county or state prisons. 

The state may send offenders to either county or state prisons if their sentences are within a particular range, like two to five years.

State Prisons and County Jails: What Are the Differences?

The disparities between state prisons and county jails are significantly related to the duration of sentences. 

In general, county jails detain inmates serving a sentence of less than one year. 

A state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) can have different guidelines than other states’ DOCs regarding the maximum sentences in county jails. 

  • In Florida, inmates generally remain in county jails for up to 364 days.
  • The maximum time Texas inmates stay in county jails is generally one year for “Class A misdemeanors”.
  • The maximum county jail sentence for misdemeanors in California is 364 days. 

Inmates often serve longer sentences in state prisons for more severe crimes. 

The Prosecutor’s Decision to Charge

After law enforcement arrests an individual, a prosecutor reviews their criminal case. 

Then the prosecutor makes an independent decision on which charges they should file. These officials may change the charged crimes after obtaining more evidence. 

If the prosecutor does not file charges within the time limit, the law requires the criminal justice system to release the detainee.

Remedies for Violations of the Speedy Trial Right

The “writ of habeas corpus” instructs law enforcement to bring you before the court. Afterward, a judge determines whether a correctional facility is lawfully holding you.

You can consult a criminal defense attorney at a law firm about these and other legal procedures. In some situations, you can receive a free consultation.


1. United States of America
2. habeas corpus

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