Prisons and Jails: An analysis of the United States Criminal Justice System

The United States criminal justice system is perhaps one of the most notorious in the world. Hollywood is often apportioned blame for this notoriety due to the common depiction in films. The intricacies of the justice system, however, are not always as depicted the biggest film industry in the world.


The United States being a federal country consists of two levels of justice; the state and the federal. Notably, these two court levels co-exist peacefully to form what is the United States justice system. The mandate of both courts is to control and prevent crime while providing and maintaining justice. The level of court that an alleged offender is tried in depends on the state or federal law that is supposedly violated.


As in other justice systems in the world, in the court trials are either criminal or civil. In a criminal trial, the government prosecutes an individual or group of people while civil trials involved disputes between two parties. To demystify the fascination with the Hollywood depiction of the justice system, Gaines and Miller (2010) argue that the United States operates under a ‘wedding cake’ model. This model postulates that the courts have discretion to assign importance to particular cases. More often than not, the preferential cases not involve celebrities who form the topmost tier of the aforementioned model of justice.


Prisons and jails are an integral part of the United States justice system. They are the centres that separate offenders and society. Though the media and the public often use the two terms interchangeably and both are correctional facilities, jails and prisons are distinguishable by several factors. Jails are heterogeneous in nature often housing convicted and yet to be convicted men and women, adults and juveniles, within the same facility. The turnover in jails is relatively high due to the fact that inmates are held here for shorter incarceration periods, usually for lesser crimes. On the other hand further prisons are incarceration centres for convicted offenders who are sentenced to serve more than one year. Like the governance system, the prison system has state and federal levels.


Despite the differences, one commonality between jails and prisons is that the majority of people sentenced to these correctional institutions by the courts are black and other ethnic minorities like Latinos. This is one reality that Hollywood has always gotten right.

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