Can you go to Prison for a Misdemeanor?

By Prison Insight Staff

Updated: April 7, 2021

The words commonly used in the criminal justice system tend to get conflated from time to time. We often refer to people as “criminals” when they are convicted of a crime. But, there is a big difference between crimes classified as felonies and those classified as misdemeanors. 

Many people also tend to use the words “jail” and “prison” to mean the same thing. But, I can tell you from experience, they are two very different animals. So, we are going to wade through this today and found out: Can you go to prison for a misdemeanor?

In today’s blog post I will cover the following topics:

  • The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor
  • The difference between prison and jail
  • There are different classes of misdemeanors and felonies

The difference between a felony and a misdemeanor

In the American criminal justice system, felonies are the most serious crimes you can commit. They come with long prison or jail sentences and fines. Sometimes, felons get their freedoms taken away permanently.

Misdemeanors, on the other hand, are much less serious crimes. If convicted, you will see much less jail time, smaller fines, and a temporary punishment. To give you an idea of what distinguishes the two, let’s look at an example.

Imagine you’ve been pulled over for a DUI stop and your blood alcohol test shows you are slightly over the legal limit. In most states, you would be arrested and charged with a misdemeanor. 

However, if you test way over the limit – or, if you have kids in the car when you test slightly over the legal limit – you will most likely be arrested and charged with a felony.

It’s all about the severity of the crime. When you are convicted of a felony and are sentenced to a period of incarceration, most likely you will serve your time in a prison. Misdemeanors are defined as a crime punishable by up to one year in jail.

The difference between prison and jail

Jail and prison are not one and the same. A jail is usually a facility operated by a city or county that houses people who have been arrested and are in police custody, but they have not yet been convicted of a crime.

Jails also house people who have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime. As well as those who have been convicted of a felony, and are waiting to be transferred to a prison. Jails are usually big pods with cells that the inmates are locked up in up to 24 hours per day.

A prison is a facility operated by a state’s department of corrections or the federal Bureau of Prisons. There are also private prisons that have management contracts with federal and state governments.

Prisons often have campus-like settings with housing units, a chow hall, a medical clinic, a recreation area, and an administration building. Inmates in prison often have access to educational programming, self-improvement classes, and facility jobs.

There are different classes of misdemeanors and felonies

Most states divide crimes into felonies and misdemeanors. There are also states that classify “infractions,” which are less serious than misdemeanors. Inside of these categories, there are different levels or classes. 

These categories are determined by the maximum amount of jail time possible. When trying to figure out the differences, the best thing to do is look at the potential jail time. For infractions, which are things like traffic violations, don’t come with jail time and do not appear on a criminal record. As a rule, the only punishment for an infraction is a ticket with a fine. It’s possible you could spend up to five days in jail for an infraction. But, that’s extremely rare. Infractions can get more serious if you ignore the situation and don’t pay the bill.

Misdemeanors are more serious than infractions, but not as serious as felonies. Like I said earlier, most states consider a misdemeanor to be a crime punishable by up to one year in jail. There are different classes of misdemeanors that have different maximum punishments.

  • Class A misdemeanor – one year or less, but more than six months;
  • Class B misdemeanor – six months or less, but more than thirty days; or
  • Class C misdemeanor – thirty days or less, but more than five days.

As a rule, jail time is served in a local county jail instead of a high security prison. 

A felony is the most serious type of crime you can commit, and is usually punishable by more than one year in prison. Most states define a felony by the length of a possible sentence or the place of incarceration. Sometimes, it’s both.

For example, the state of Idaho defines a felony a crime punishable by death or by imprisonment in the state prison.The state of Georgia defines a felony “a crime punishable by death, imprisonment for life, or imprisonment for more than 12 months.”

Typically, though a sentence of more than one year that will be served in a state or federal prison will be considered a felony. General definitions are as follows (each state has their own definitions): 

  • Class A felony – life imprisonment or the death penalty;
  • Class B felony – twenty-five or more years;
  • Class C felony – less than twenty-five years, but more than ten years;
  • Class D felony – less than ten years, but more than five years; or
  • Class E felony – less than five years, but more than one year

The simple answer to today’s blog post question is “no.” You can’t go to prison for a misdemeanor. But, you can end up in jail for up to one year if convicted. 

Did you know the difference between jail and prison? Let us know in the comments below.


Can you go to jail for a misdemeanor?

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  • Heads up, it’s quite easy to determine the Author’s full identity based on the information provided in her bio… don’t wanna dox her but unless I’m wrong about her having been in trouble along with her brother, I’d say you need less info if you wanna keep her ID private.

    Also, excessive intoxication is not a felony – felonies happen only after a certain number of DUI convictions, varies from state to state. Excessive intoxication gets you an aggravated DUI, which is simply more serious misdemeanor.

    Hit me up if you guys need any help on anything, I’m an attorney, my brother was in prison, and I’m definitely interested in prison reform and drug reform, glad to see the prosecutors saw the light in the author’s case here.

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