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County jail

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The term "county jail" is used in the United States for jails maintained to hold prisoners in each of the many county divisions of a U.S. state. People will be moved into a county jail from various city jails, or from being handcuffed to building structures after they are arrested. A county jail is often larger, or more secure, than many city jails (depending on the size of the city). Also, a county jail may include many buildings, or various branches, perhaps miles apart from each other.

Typically, each county jail is maintained by a "sheriff's department" run by the current sheriff and his deputy officers. They form a separate group from the city police, or town police departments, in a county.

In accordance with legal rights, a county jail will have some private cells to hold especially violent or controversial suspects, to protect others from them or them from being targeted by the general population of the jail. Also, a county jail will be subject to medical or health restrictions, such as providing air conditioners or Kosher foods, since many detainees are still presumed innocent and are not yet proven to be "criminals". Some innocent people might wait 2 years in a county jail, awaiting a criminal trial, while unable to bond out by posting a "bail bond" (depending on the nature of the criminal charges against them).

When people are convicted of a felony, then they will be moved from the county jail (perhaps within a few days) to a state prison (or penitentiary) which typically only contains convicted people (and only relatively few of them would be actually innocent by being misjudged as "guilty"). Hence, the U.S. state prisons typically contain mostly "hardened criminals" who have actually committed numerous major crimes, while a county jail might contain many innocent people, or first-time offenders, who do not have a severe criminal mindset.

Because the prisons (or penitentiaries) are for punishment of offenders (convicted felons), the living conditions might be lower, such as lacking air conditioning or heating, or having poor food. Also, some convicts, imprisoned for 1 or more years, might be likely to steal from others, so each person might be allowed to have a padlock to put food in a locker, but there is no guarantee that others would not threaten or trick a person to open the locker to allow items to be taken by force or distraction. In the county jail, people are held for court sessions or punishment of misdemeanors (lesser offenses), so there is less chance of meeting hardened thieves. However, a prison puts many convicts to work, to reduce the labor cost of maintaining the prison, so each convict might have more ability to move around the prison complex, compared to inmates in a county jail, where most of them might not be working but simply waiting to be freed.

For those reasons, a county jail is often very different, as to both structure and occupants, from a prison.en:County jail