Differences Between Federal and State Prisons

Unless you regularly interact with the criminal justice system, you may not be aware that there are significant differences between state and federal prisons. However, understanding those differences is critical if you have been convicted of a crime that carries a potential prison sentence. 

Federal and state carceral systems have minimal overlap. Depending on the crime for which you’ve been convicted, you will be sentenced to one, the other, or potentially both. This will shape the rest of the sentencing process. Here’s what you need to know about the differences between the different prison systems and how the system you enter will affect your experience

What Are Federal Prisons?

Federal prisons are institutions operated by the national Bureau of Prisons (BOP). These institutions are used to incarcerate people convicted of federal laws who receive prison sentences. Some  crimes that may lead to federal prison sentence include:

  • Fraud – wire, mortgage, bank, securities, healthcare, tax, charity, and others
  • Identity theft
  • Money laundering
  • Embezzlement
  • Drug possession, sale and distribution
  • Immigration offenses
  • Possession and sale of firearms
  • Conspiracy and Enterprise Corruption
  • Child pornography
  • Murder

There are 122 institutions nationwide ranging from minimum security “prison camps” to maximum and administrative security facilities designed to secure dangerous offenders. The specific facility to which a convicted person is sentenced depends on the crimes they are convicted of and the information included in their Pre-Sentencing Report (PSR).

Because they are all under the direction of the federal government, these institutions should follow consistent laws and processes in every jurisdiction. Whether you are convicted of federal tax evasion in New York, Pennsylvania, or California, the federal sentencing guidelines and process should be largely the same. This can make it easier to learn about and prepare for the process.

What Are State Prisons?

In contrast, state prisons are operated under individual state laws and governments. Each has its own local carceral system funded by local taxes and managed by the Department of Corrections (DOC). These facilities are where people convicted of state crimes will be sentenced to serve their time. There are hundreds of jails, penitentiaries, and other prisons around the country, as every state has multiple locations at different security levels.

Because laws, penalties, and processes vary in different states, there is no single list of convictions guaranteed to lead to a state prison sentence. 

In most cases, state prisons have less funding than federal facilities. They are also more likely to contain violent offenders than national institutions due to the separation between state and federal laws. This may mean that your experience in a state prison may be significantly different than it would be in federal institutions. However, your specific experience will vary depending on what you have been convicted of and the state in which you were charged. 

What Makes Sentences in Federal and State Prisons Different?

The most significant difference between federal and state facilities is consistency. While federal prisons have their differences, the general process is consistent across the country because they are all managed by the federally funded BOP. 

However, state institutions can vary significantly. Incarceration rates, wait times, funding, and programs for inmates are entirely different in states next door to each other. In addition, since state convictions are more likely to involve violent offenses, the sentencing process may be more complicated and restrictive.

The sentencing process can be stressful and confusing regardless of which system you’re entering. If you’ve been convicted of a crime specific to New York, you’ll need to follow the rules and requirements set by the local DOC. Federal convictions require you to understand the BOP’s systems. In either case, it’s in your best interest to work with a sentencing advocate who understands how the system works.

Prepare for Your Prison Sentence With Liberty Advisors

You shouldn’t face the sentencing process alone. Liberty Advisors’ expert sentencing advocate and prison consultant Tara Lenich is available to help you navigate your sentence regardless of your conviction. She has experience on both sides of the legal process and understands the stress and anxiety you face. Her unique perspective makes her the perfect choice to help you prepare for your prison sentence. Tara will use her knowledge and skills to ensure you understand what to expect from your sentence, Regardless of the facility you’ll enter. You can discuss your situation and learn more about the differences between state and federal prison systems by scheduling your consultation today.


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