What Is the Difference Between a State and Federal Prison?

Federal prisons most often house people who have been convicted of federal crimes, including those committed against a federal institution; people who have been convicted of interstate crimes can also be placed in a federal prison, according to a Library Index article. State prisons generally house people who have been convicted of serious crimes requiring sentences that last a period of several years or more.

A major difference between state and federal prisons is the level of violence common among inmates. USA Today reported that state prisons house far more violent criminals than federal prisons. This is such a well-known fact that defense attorneys for many white-collar criminals often urge their clients to participate in plea bargains in order to avoid incarceration at the state prison level, according to the article. The majority of white-collar crimes tend to violate both state and federal laws and may be prosecuted in either jurisdiction.

The most common federal offenses that land a person in federal prison include crimes committed on the high seas, crimes committed against banks, federally insured credit unions or post offices and crimes committed against a federal officer, such as an FBI agent, according to the Library Index article. The Federal Bureau of Prisons manages federal prisons, and each state has its own department of corrections to manage that state's prisons.