What Does Jail Look Like?

Admin Admin
umanoide QjCq7do B14 unsplash 1

Did you know that there are 2,850 jails in the United States? Spread over these jails are more than 547,000 individuals, all waiting for their trial date, sentencing, or completion of their misdemeanor jail time.

Surprisingly, many don’t know what a jail is and what life is like inside these facilities. If you’re interested in learning what U.S. jails look like, their typical characteristics, and how they compare to jails in other countries, then read on.

You’ll read in this article the characteristics of jails in the United States, what they look like, and what life is like inside these facilities. Also, this write-up will inform you about the typical characteristics of a jail in the U.S.

Furthermore, you’ll learn more about other countries, their prisons, and how they manage their incarcerated population.

Jails are holding areas to lock up newly arrested offenders, people awaiting trial, and inmates serving short sentences. The city, district, or county often operates the facilities. You can learn more about the different jails in the United States by visiting LookUpInmate.org.

We provide a vast database of jails housed in one site, with the facilities organized by state. You can learn more about every jail and get all the necessary information, from contact numbers and the jail’s official website to visiting hours.

How Would You Describe Jail?

Jails are local facilities run by the county, district, or city government. People arrested in jails tend to await trial or sentencing or serve short jail time, often less than a year. The physical structure of jails is usually buildings designed to keep a limited number of inmates at a time within cell doors.

Life in a Prison Cell

The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) strives to make prisons a place of rehabilitation and correction for incarcerated people. However, due to the sheer number of inmates in the United States, not all prisons have the same quality of living due to overcrowding.

Life inside a correctional facility is a combination of daily routines: following regulations, adhering to restrictions, and undergoing programs aimed at rehabilitation.

A Day in a Prisoner’s Life

In a typical U.S. prison, a jail or prison inmate experiences a daily routine of activities set by the prison officers in a facility. The following are typical activities an inmate goes through during the day.

A day in a prisoner’s life includes these activities:

  • Going to work provided by the facility
  • Visiting the yard, taking note of inmate counts, and participating in other prison activities
  • Enjoying occasional visits to the commissary
  • Showing up for scheduled visits from family members or making phone calls to loved ones

Count time refers to the period correctional facilities set aside to count all inmates. They’re usually conducted five to six times a day. During this period, prisoners cannot leave the area until the staff finishes the count.

Also, some prisons include health service programs and substance abuse treatments in the activities provided to inmates.

Jail vs. Prison

If you check many publications now, even in everyday conversations, the terms “jail” and “prison” are used interchangeably. They are often used loosely to refer to a place where people are kept behind bars. However, the two terms have different definitions.


When you have time to visit your local jail or check a website featuring inmate records, you’ll notice a pattern: people either serve a short-term sentence or await trial or a sentencing date.

Because the local government runs local jails, their facilities are less developed than prisons.


Here’s the difference between a jail and a prison: prisons are large facilities designed to house inmates with long-term sentences. They are run either by the state prison system or the federal government or directly managed by the BOP.

Comparison Chart

  Jail Prison
Inmates People awaiting trialPeople with short-term sentences (usually less than one year) People with long-term sentencesPeople convicted of severe crimes
Jurisdiction Jails are run by the county sheriff, district, or city State and federal prisons are operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the Department of Corrections (DOC)

Length of Detention

Usually, jail inmates get detained anywhere from two days to a year at most. As mentioned, jails are not intended to hold inmates with long-term sentences, especially after an individual is sentenced by a judge. After sentencing, the inmate is transferred to a prison where they will serve their sentence, ranging from one year to life imprisonment.

In the United States

The criminal justice system of the United States is a complex network of communication between the government, law enforcement, correctional officers, the Department of Justice, the BOP, DOC, and the different local governments in each state.

Jail Living Conditions

Imagine jails and prisons. You might be wondering how people under such conditions live. It may be hard to grasp the idea of several people confined in a small area for years.

Understanding the conditions of inmates can help you create a connection with people behind bars. These connections can spark empathy and even beckon people and communities to join hands in helping inmates become better versions of themselves through rehabilitation. Here are the living conditions inside the jail system in the United States.

Housing Modules

New construction methods provide jail cells with modular housing to better utilize the limited space in sites like county jails. Modules are made from concrete with a durable steel design and can include different amenities if necessary.

Escalating Violence

The limited capacity of jails does not make them immune to violence, overcrowding, and mistreatment of inmates.

The general degrading safety and security in some jails in the country are of concern to many, especially advocates for the humane treatment of incarcerated individuals.

Denying Treatment

Mental health is a growing concern inside correctional facilities. According to Bureau of Jail statistics, suicide was the leading cause of jail deaths in 2019. Jail systems still need to work on providing these individuals the care they need to avoid making prisoners feel that they are being denied treatment.

Tolerating Abuse

Different studies and investigations have been made regarding abuse inside jails and prisons. However, many believe that abuse like sexual misconduct inside jails is underreported. Investigations done by the DOJ (Department of Justice) continue to probe into these problems, hoping to resolve abuse issues soon.

Enriching Corporations

Private prison corporations have been reported to earn nearly $4 billion in 2017 alone. Many people see this as corporations enriching themselves through mass incarceration.

Do Jails Have Condoms?

Despite the current medical knowledge that condoms can reduce the risk of developing sexually transmitted diseases, condom availability is limited in most prisons in the United States.

The Photos of Prison Cells Around the World Show How Differently Countries Treat Their Criminals

Through this article, you’ll have a chance to imagine life in other prisons and learn about their conditions and how countries treat their incarcerated population.

What Do Prison Cells Look Like Around the World?

Did you know that as of December 2021, the estimated incarcerated population worldwide is 11.5 million? All of these people are housed in prison facilities provided by their governments.

Countries provide differently for their incarcerated population. Some nations are better, yet some are far worse. Here is a list of prisons that have caught people’s attention either for their humane or exemplary treatment of inmates or for the harrowing conditions endured by the facility’s incarcerated population.

Aranjuez Prison, Aranjuez, Spain

This Spanish facility is an interesting “five-star” prison for the family. Here, inmates can lead regular lives with their families and children. This prison provides a daycare area for kids to play. Still, children can be with their incarcerated parents until they are three years of age only.

Luzira Prison, Kampala, Uganda

Luzira Prison is Uganda’s sole maximum security prison. Overcrowding remains an issue in Ugandan prisons. For instance, Luzira houses more than 8,500 inmates in a facility intended for 3,000. Programs in this prison include farming, which helps feed the prison population.

Bastoy Prison, Horten, Norway

Bastoy Prison looks more like a community than a prison. This facility is a low-security prison in Norway with around 100 inmates as of 2020. Prison cells have wooden cabins, furnishings, and television for inmates.

Halden Prison, Halden, Norway

Halden Prison has game rooms and workshop areas for inmates housed in apartment-style units big enough to fit eight people. The facility is quiet, with guards sharing waffles and coffee with everyone.

Onomichi Prison, Onomichi, Japan

Japan’s Onomichi Prison has a growing number of senior adult inmates. The facility is slowly becoming an elderly care unit rather than a prison due to the growing number of senior adults in custody.

Norgerhaven Prison, Veenhuizen, Netherlands

The Netherlands provides inmates with refrigerators and televisions in Norgerhaven Prison. The facility rarely experiences overcrowding because crime rates in the country are low.

HMP Addiewell, Lothian, Scotland

Addiewell is also called the “learning” prison. The facility focuses on teaching skills through programmed intervention and in-prison jobs. The prison also adopted the “peer model” system, where individuals showing role model characteristics are placed in positions where they can help and influence others.

Black Dolphin Prison, Sol-Iletsk, Russia

Black Dolphin Prison is a maximum security designed to house Russia’s most notorious serial killers. The facility has over 700 inmates under 24-hour surveillance. A black dolphin statue can be seen outside the prison.

Champ-Dollon Prison, Geneva, Switzerland

Champ-Dollon Prison is a holding area for prisoners awaiting trial and sentencing. This prison offers inmates clean rooms and interiors that provide comfort.

Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility, Santee, California

The Las Colinas detention facility provides innovative ways to prepare inmates to reenter society by focusing on rehabilitation programs.

Landsberg Prison, Landsberg Am Lech, Germany

Landsberg Prison is a Bavarian imprisonment facility where Adolf Hitler wrote his book “Mein Kampf.” In the same facility, 252 Nazis were executed for war crimes.

Abashiri Prison, Abashiri, Japan

Abashiri Prison was founded in the 1890s to house dangerous criminals during the Japanese Meiji Era (1868-1912). Most of the buildings have been turned into a museum. The Japanese government constructed a new facility for prisoners, which is still operational.

Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center (CPDRC), Cebu Province, Philippines

CPDRC is a maximum security facility in Cebu province that houses the internet sensation “dancing inmates.” The inmates learned dancing from the prison’s fitness program.

Penal De Ciudad Barrios, Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, El Salvador

The Penal de Ciudad Barrios is a maximum security prison in El Salvador that mainly houses gang members. Severely overcrowded, a single cell usually houses 30 people, with hammocks stacked on each other.

Oslo’s Skien Prison, Oslo, Norway

Skien Prison provides inmates with private bathrooms, television, and video games inside their cells. One of the facility’s notorious inmates is the serial killer Anders Breivik, who caused the deaths of 77 people and injured dozens more. He’s serving a 21-year sentence in this prison.

Otago Corrections Facility, Milburn, New Zealand

Otago Corrections Facility allows amenities inside cells, like television sets, access to health facilities and medical care, and a library.

The Maula Prison, Lilongwe, Malawi

Maula Prison is a severely overcrowded correctional facility in Malawi. Hundreds of inmates are often housed in cells designed for 60 individuals.

ADX Florence, Colorado, United States

Known as the “Alcatraz of the Rockies” in Freemont, Colorado, ADX Florence holds dangerous inmates that are extreme security threats.

Haiti’s Civil Prison, Arcahaie, Haiti

Haiti’s pretrial detention policy was the cause of the severe overcrowding in Haiti’s prisons. This country’s civil prison in Arcahaie has little to no access to healthcare, and more than 11,253 inmates (as of 2021) experience unhealthy living conditions.

UN Detention Unit, Outside The Hague, Netherlands

The United Nations Detention Unit, or UNDU, is an autonomous facility inside a Dutch prison complex in the Scheveningen district outside The Hague. The UNDU houses detainees under ICC (International Criminal Court) authority.

Petak Island Prison, Vologda, Russia

Petak Island prison has around 193 inmates serving life sentences. Prisoners live in deprived cells without toilets, sinks, and wash areas. Inmates tend to spend 22.5 hours inside their cells every day.

San Quentin State Prison, San Quentin, California

The San Quentin State Prison is California’s oldest correctional institution, founded in 1852. The facility holds more than 3,000 inmates in four main cell blocks.

Evin Prison, Tehran, Iran

Evin Prison was once a political prison used by Shah Pahlavi’s administration. Thousands of political opponents were locked up in Evin Prison and endured inhumane conditions, torture, and executions.

HM Prison Dartmoor, Princetown, England

HMP (His Majesty’s Prison) Dartmoor was built in the 1800s to house prisoners of the Napoleonic wars. Today Dartmoor is a facility for minimum security prisoners who can use telephones for free to contact their families.

Quezon City Jail, Quezon City, Philippines

Quezon City Jail is also known as the “Philippines’ Most Crowded Jail.” More than 4,000 inmates are detained in this facility, which can house only 800 people.

El Buen Pastor Women’s Prison, Bogota, Colombia

El Buen Pastor houses around 55,000 women inmates in harsh and cramped conditions. The prison regularly holds a beauty pageant, one of the unique characteristics of this women’s prison in Colombia.

Pelican Bay State Prison, Crescent City, California

Pelican Bay State Prison is a maximum security facility in California that houses 1,500 inmates inside windowless solitary confinement cells. Pelican Bay receives no visitors and allows no physical interaction between inmates.

San Pedro Prison, La Paz, Bolivia

The San Pedro Prison is a village prison, self-managed by its prison society. It resembles more of a town than an incarceration facility. Within the compound are various stalls and restaurants. Inmates also live with their families inside this unique prison.

Rikers Island Prison, New York, United States

The main prison facility in New York City is Rikers Island. The island is often regarded as the world’s largest penal colony.

Neve Tirza, Ramla, Israel

Neve Tirza is the only women’s prison facility in Israel. The prison houses 200 female inmates living in less-than-desirable conditions. The ages of inmates inside Neve Tirza range from 14 to 70.

Bordeaux Prison, Montreal, Canada

Bordeaux Prison, or the Montreal Detention Center, looks like an old French castle from the outside but has new prison surveillance technologies to house inmates inside.

Altiplano Prison, Almoloya De Juarez, Mexico

El Altiplano Prison, or Almoloya, is Mexico’s maximum security prison. It currently has 724 inmates but is plagued with high-profile criminal escapes.

Kashimpur Central Jail, Gazipur, Bangladesh

Kashimpur Central Jail is one of the 68 overcrowded jails in Bangladesh. The country has more than 80,000 inmates serving prison sentences in cramped conditions.

The Federal Correctional Institution (FCI), El Reno, Oklahoma

El Reno FCI is a medium-security facility in Oklahoma’s Canadian County. This male-only prison holds around 1,226 inmates in a facility designed for only 936 inmates.

Desembargador Raimundo Vidal Pessoa Penitentiary, Manaus, Brazil

A former prison in Manaus, Brazil, this facility was plagued with riots, murders, and uprisings. Most prisoners in Vidal Pessoa were individuals linked to drug gangs.


1. Mortality in Local Jails, 2000–2019 – Statistical Tables
2. Aranjuez: Spain’s `five-star’ prison for families https://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/02/11/2003348580
3. Uganda Prisons transfers inmates over congestion
4. Bastøy: Norway’s Island Prison Where Inmates Work, Ski And Watch TV https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidnikel/2020/07/01/basty-norways-island-prison-where-inmates-work-ski-and-watch-tv/?sh=3c9cb561babe
5. No country for old men: Japan’s elderly inmates prefer jail
6. Addiewell
7. Unique And Luxurious Prisons – Champ-Dollon Prison
8. Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility (LCDRF)
9. Las Colinas Detention and Re-entry Facility
10. Landsberg Prison
11. Abashiri Prison Museum
12. Cebu governor brings back ‘dancing inmates’ show
13. CIUDAD BARRIOS: THE MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON OF THE MARA SALVATRUCHA https://www.oldskull.net/fotografia/ciudad-barrios-la-carcel-de-maxima-seguridad-de-la-mara-salvatrucha
14. Norwegian mass killer Breivik has not reformed, must stay in jail, prosecution says https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/norwegian-mass-killer-breivik-has-not-reformed-must-stay-jail-prosecution-says-2022-01-20/
15. The World’s Most Secure Buildings: ADX Florence Prison
16. Prisoners in Haiti Still Face Horrendous Conditions
17. World Prison Brief data
18. United Nations Detention Unit (UNDU)
19. International Criminal Court
20. World’s most barbaric and brutal prisons
22. V. Detention Centers and Ill-Treatment
23. Dartmoor Prison Musuem
24. Life inside the Philippines’ most overcrowded jail
25. Cassie Sainsbury: Inside Colombia’s El Buen Pastor women’s prison
27. Photo Extra: Inside a Bolivian Prison Village
28. What is Rikers Island Prison?
29. Behind the bars in Israel’s only female prison
30. Montreal Detention Centre
31. Where is the Altiplano prison, the maximum security prison?
32. Makeshift sheds proposed as jails overcrowded
33. El Reno Federal Correctional Institution
34. Building of former Vidal Pessoa prison should be transformed into space for social services, says city hall https://g1.globo.com/am/amazonas/noticia/2022/02/01/predio-da-antiga-cadeia-vidal-pessoa-deve-ser-transformado-em-espaco-para-servicos-sociais-diz-prefeitura.ghtml

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *