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Differences Between State Prisons and Federal Prisons

Wondering the difference between state prisons and federal prisons in Pennsylvania and across the United States? The difference between state and federal prison typically begins in court.

When someone is charged with a federal offense like tax evasion or commits a crime on federal property or crimes that cross state lines like kidnapping or drug trafficking, they face federal criminal charges. These charges are usually brought by federal prosecutors on behalf of the federal government. These charges are heard in federal district courts throughout the United States, where they are ruled on by federal judges. State crimes, on the other hand, are tried in state courts.

Here are the biggest differences between federal and state prisons:

  • Federal prison sentences are usually longer than state prison sentences. Most federal charges have mandatory minimum sentence lengths for convicted people. These sentences tend to be longer than state mandated penalties for similar crimes.
  • State prisons usually have more violent offenders in their populations. The types of cases heard in federal court are typically non-violent offenses like identity theft and fraud, so the people serving time in federal prisons are more likely to be non-violent offenders, but many federal prisons do contain some kidnappers, sex traffickers and murderers. State prisons typically house a higher percentage of violent criminals, since violent crimes are charged under state law.
  • Federal prisoners can be sent anywhere in the country. People sentenced to federal prison can be sent to any prison in the country, while people sentenced to state prison typically serve their prison sentences in the state where they are convicted.
  • Federal prisons are seen as better run. The Federal Bureau of Prisons receives more funding, so federal prisons tend to have better facilities, food and education programs. State prisons, on the other hand, are seen as underfunded and poorly managed.

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