What Should I Know About Jail?

When someone is convicted of a crime, a jail sentence is a common punishment. For many people, serving a jail sentence is a very understandable source of fear and anxiety. Here are some answers to common questions we get relating to jail sentences:

Am I going to jail or prison?
Generally speaking, misdemeanor crimes carry potential punishments of jail sentences and felony crimes carry potential punishments of prison sentences. You can go to jail instead of prison for a felony offense, however, and, in certain cases where the defendant is a criminal repeater, prison sentences are available, but that is fairly rare. During the sentencing hearing, the judge will explain if you are being sentenced to prison or to jail.

What’s the difference?
In Wisconsin, each defendant sentences to jail is presumed to be eligible for Huber privileges, our term for work release. Additionally, many counties allow defendants ordered to jail to serve the time on electronic monitoring , or house arrest. In contrast, prison does not allow for in-home monitoring, and only authorizes work programs in rare circumstances. Additionally, the maximum amount of time a defendant can spend in jail is virtually always less than one year (the maximum amount depends on the number of convictions as well as the maximum penalties for each conviction), whereas, generally speaking, prison sentences are longer than one year. A defendant typically serves the jail sentence in the county the crime was committed in, whereas a prison inmate can be held in any facility statewide that is deemed appropriate for security purposes. Finally, most would argue that because of the work release options, jail is less restrictive than prison.

Will I have to go to jail right away?
It depends on the nature of your conviction. Most counties give defendants up to 60 days to report to jail, but if the conviction is for an OWI 3rd or higher, you will have to go into custody the day you are sentenced.

Can I lose eligibility for work release?
Yes. Upon entering the jail, a defendant will have to pass a drug test. Failing the test can result in revocation of Huber privileges. Additionally, conduct violations while serving time can result in sanctions that include revocation of work release.

Is there time off for good behavior?
Yes. In Wisconsin, for every four days you serve, assuming there are no conduct violations, the fifth day is removed from your sentence. So, a 30 day jail sentence results in 23 days of actual confinement. (Note: “good time” does not apply to jail sentences that are a condition of probation, except in rare circumstances.)

Does it cost money?
Most people are surprised to learn that there is a fee to serve jail time, at least if you exercise work release privileges or use electronic monitoring. You should plan for costs ranging from $12-20/day.

What can I bring with me?
It varies from county to county. In preparation for a jail sentence, you are best served to review your specific jail’s rules about inmate property.

If you are facing a jail sentence, contact a Wisconsin criminal defense attorney today.