Difference Between California Prison and Federal Prison

What is the Difference Between Federal Prison and California State Prison?

Federal prison is the incarceration center for persons who have committed crimes under federal jurisdiction or have been accused of breaking federal law. These crimes include:

  • Crimes committed across state borders or where the defendant crosses state lines.
  • Crimes against federal government officials, agents, institutions, and property.
  • Crimes committed on federal lands
  • Immigration and customs violations

Federal prisons are managed by the Bureau of Prisons (BoP), a division of the Department of Justice (DoJ).

On the other hand, California state prisons are incarceration centers for persons who have committed crimes in California. These include all felonies and misdemeanors committed in the state, which do not fall under federal jurisdiction. California state prisons are managed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

The California Prison System

The California Prison System is a system of correctional facilities and other special programs administered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). The Monthly Population Report for January 2021 put the total number of inmates under CDCR supervision at 94,310; a drop of 1.2% since December 2020 and 23.7% from the previous year. Of this total, 90,955 were incarcerated in institutions and camps throughout California. The CDCR publishes weekly and monthly population reports compiled by the Office of Research.

The CDCR incarcerates violent offenders, supervises parolees, and helps rehabilitate released convicts back into society. This is an expensive process, and the CDCR Budget for the 2021 fiscal year was proposed to be $13.4 billion. $13.1 billion was for the general fund, and $306.5 million was proposed for other funds.

Currently, there are 35 correctional facilities operated by the CDCR, of which the Department owns 34. The CDCR has leased the California City Correctional Facility from Core Civic since 2013. There are two female-only facilities operated by the CDCR - the California Institute for Women in Corona and the Central California Women's Facility in Chowchilla. Folsom State Prison in Represa operates different facilities for male and female inmates. All adult facilities operated by the CDCR can also be located using the facility locator tool on the CDCR website.

Currently, all in-person visitations at CDCR facilities are suspended in accordance with State CoVID-19 protocols. The CDCR offers video visiting facilities at some of its prisons for friends and family who wish to communicate with their loved ones. Inmates are each allowed thirty-minute video visits every thirty days for free. These visits must take place on weekends or holidays, and public health protocols with be observed during the visits. Video visits can be scheduled using the Video Scheduling Application (where available) or by sending an email request directly to the institution when the inmate is located. Email requests must include the following information:

  • Inmate Name
  • Inmate CDCR Number
  • Approved Visitor's Full name
  • Date of Birth
  • Valid ID type and number
  • Email address
  • Phone number
  • Relationship to inmate

A confirmation email will be sent to approved visitors for video visits that indicate the date and time of the video visit. Dates and times are assigned and cannot be changed if the visitor cannot make the appointment. The confirmation email will also contain instructions on how to begin a video visit and a link to join a visiting session. Before any scheduled visits, confirm the VPASS Facility Status of the institution where the inmate is located to ensure it is still available for video visits. More information on visiting inmates is available on the CDCR website.

There are three methods for sending funds to inmates in CDCR facilities. These are:

  1. Electronic Funds Transfers (EFT) - This is a paid service by which funds are posted into inmate's accounts 1 - 3 days after being deposited.
  2. Lock Box - In this method funds are sent via money order, personal, or cashier’s check. Depositors fill out the money order deposit form and mail it along with the check or money order (payable to JPay) to JPay, 2202 South Figueroa Street, Box 3001, Los Angeles, CA 90007.
  3. Mail Check/Money Order To Institution - Depositors can also mail the checks or money orders directly to the institution where the inmate is located. The checks or money order should be made payable to the CDCR and must include the inmate’s full name and CDCR number on it, as well as the sender’s name and address. There is a 30-day hold on funds sent through this means.

How to Lookup Inmates in California

Inmates incarcerated in Federal or California State prisons can be located using the inmate locator search tool available online or contacting the prison management directly. For federal prisons, the inmate locator tool is on the Bureau of Prisons website. Federal inmates can be searched by name - First and Last names are required or number - Inmate numbers from the Bureau of Prisons (BoP), DC Department of Corrections (DCDC), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Immigration and Natural Services (INS). Information is only available for inmates incarcerated since 1982.

For California State prisons, the inmate locator tool is on the CDCR website. Users can search for inmates using their Last name or CDCR inmate number. To retrieve California inmate records, requestors may be required to query the prison facility directly, via mail or in person.

California County Jails

County jails in California are jails maintained to hold prisoners in each of the state's counties. They are maintained by the local county government and run by the County Sheriff's Department. County jails typically hold:

  • Persons who have been arrested, pending a bail or release hearing
  • Persons awaiting a trial date who are unable or restricted from posting bail
  • Persons convicted of crimes with relatively short sentences (not more than one year)
  • Persons convicted of serious crimes and are awaiting transfer to state or federal prison.
  • Persons convicted of contempt of court

County jails are also used to hold material witnesses, in criminal cases, who are considered to be flight risks and persons awaiting extradition to other states for criminal proceedings.

Counties in California operate several types of jail facilities, such as court-holding facilities, temporary holding facilities, and long-term holding facilities. Nearly every county in California operates at least one long-term facility, and there are over 115 county jail facilities statewide. The January 2021 CDCR Monthly Population Report indicated there were 3,611 inmates held in county jails in the state.

How Does the Federal Prison System Work?

The Federal Prison System in the United States operates under the authority of the federal government and is used to incarcerate violators of federal laws. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP), a division of the Department of Justice, oversees the Federal Prison System. The BoP administers all federal prison and correctional facilities in the country and is responsible for the custody and welfare of over 152,000 federal inmates.

BoP correctional facilities are classified into:

  1. Minimum security facilities - Federal Prison Camps (FPCs)
  2. Low-security facilities - Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs), Correctional Institutions (CIs)
  3. Medium security facilities - Federal Correctional Institutions (FCIs), US Penitentiaries (USPs)
  4. High-security facilities - US Penitentiaries (USPs)
  5. Administrative security facilities - Federal Medical Centers (FMCs), Federal Detention Centers (FDCs), Federal Transfer Center (FTC), Metropolitan Detention Centers (MDCs), Metropolitan Correctional Centers (MCCs).

Federal Correctional Complexes (FCCs) are co-located BoP facilities with different security levels.

The BoP also operates and manages 12 facilities in California - two residential re-entry management facilities (RRM) and ten prisons and correctional facilities. These are

Atwater USP, Dublin FCI, Herlong FCI, Mendota FCI, Terminal Island FCI, Lompoc FCC, Victorville FCC, Los Angeles MDC, San Diego MCC, Taft CI, Long Beach RRM, and Sacramento RRM.

Visitors for inmates in federal prisons need to confirm the location of the inmate beforehand and this can be done using the federal inmate locator. This is because federal inmates can be moved periodically for various reasons such as medical conditions, security concerns, and to benefit from particular programs. Only pre-approved visitors can see federal inmates. Approved persons are persons on the inmate's visiting list, who have been cleared by the BoP.