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Lloyd Sealy Library
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

New York Prisons and Jails: Historical Research: Definitions: Jail & Prison

A guide to historical to current resources on prisons and jails in New York City and New York State. By Ellen Belcher

Jails & Prisons in NYC Area

City Limits Magazine posted a chart of all the Jails & Prisons under various jurisdictions in the NYC area as part of an article on local incarceration facilities in July, 2018. 

Vera Institute  made their incarceration trends data sets available "...including county-level jail data from 1970 to 2015 as well as the recently constructed county-level prison admissions and incarceration data from 1983 to 2015." as announced in this 12/2018 blog post.

Definition: Jail

Different from state and federal prisons, jails are generally operated at the local city or county level. Jails hold a variety of people, including those being detained before trial who were not granted bail or are unable to afford bail. Jails house offenders convicted of felony criminal charges who are awaiting sentencing of more than one year in a prison, as well as offenders found guilty of misdemeanors sentenced to serve less than one year. Jails also hold offenders convicted of felonies awaiting transfer to a state prison. Given the variety of people housed in jails, they are generally considered more violent than prisons where the populations are relatively stable over time. See also Prison/Prisoner


From The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences.  [Ed. Larry E. Sullivan.  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2009. p275.] For more definitions, search 'Jail' in Gale Virtual Reference Library (cuny use only)

Definition: Corrections


The component of the criminal justice system that punishes offenders after conviction. As indicated by its name, corrections is an attempt to correct or rehabilitate the offender. This philosophy fell into disfavor in the 1970s and was replaced with a more retributive model. Corrections can include sentences of jail or prison, in addition to community-based or extra-institutional punishments, such as halfway houses, electronic monitoring, house arrest, fines, restitution, asset forfeiture, drug programs, community service, boot camps, work release, shock incarceration, probation, parole, and so forth. Correctional facilities are a form of institutional punishment and can include jails to hold detainees, inmates sentenced for one year, or state inmates temporarily while awaiting court appearances or instate transfers. They are locally managed, and in most jurisdictions, they are supervised by the sheriff’s department. Prisons are specifically reserved for convicted felons who are serving more than a year’s sentence, and they are managed by the respective state’s Department of Correctional Services or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Most state systems use a centralized system of management; there is one main administrative unit in charge of establishing the standards of procedure. Federal systems tend to be decentralized and focus on unit management. States facilities are classified according to security level and can consist of supermaximum, maximum, medium, and minimum security facilities. Federal facilities are classified as administrative segregation, high security, medium security, minimum security, and low security. Inmates are classified in a reception center according to their security level (i.e., instant offense, past record, etc.), and their treatment needs (i.e., programmatic, medical, or mental health requirements). Depending on behavior, an inmate’s security classification can change several times during his or her incarceration. See also Community-Based Corrections ; Jail ; Prison/Prisoner ; Probation

From: The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. [Ed. Larry E. Sullivan. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2009. 113-114.]

Definition: Prison


Institutions designed for the confinement of convicted felons who have been sentenced to more than one year of incarceration. Prisons are distinct from jails in that prisons typically confine only sentenced offenders serving more than one year, while jails hold pretrial detainees as well as misdemeanants serving shorter sentences. Moreover, jails are typically administered by local law enforcement agencies, while prisons are administered by state departments of correction. Although there is evidence of confinement facilities of various types throughout history, the prison as we know it today is a relatively young institution. The birth of the modern prison is generally credited to the penal reformers of the late 1700s and the development of the penitentiaries in the United States in the early 1800s. Two competing models of a penitentiary system emerged in New York and Pennsylvania, and penal reformers of the time had high hopes for the potential of these new institutions. Within less than 50 years, it was clear that the penitentiaries had not achieved their lofty aims, and they were gradually replaced by reformatories, which were, in turn, gradually replaced by prisons. Today, prisons are generally places designed solely for punishment. Rehabilitation and reform are no longer the central aims of the institution. There are more prisons and prisoners today than at any previous time in history, and research suggests that, at least in the United States, convicted offenders are more likely to be sent to prison and more likely to serve lengthy terms of imprisonment when they arrive. See also Imprisonment ; Incapacitate ; Incarcerate ; Jail ; Penology ; Punishment (sociology) ; Retribution

From: The SAGE Glossary of the Social and Behavioral Sciences. [Ed. Larry E. Sullivan.  Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Reference, 2009. p403-404.]

For more definitions, search 'Prison' in Gale Virtual Reference Library (cuny use only)

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Ellen Belcher
Lloyd Sealy Library

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

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New York City 10019