'Go to Jail' vs. 'Go to the Jail'

Criminals, prisoners, or inmates typically go to jail or are in jail (not “to the jail” or “in the jail”).

Criminals, prisoners, or inmates typically go to jail or are in jail (not “to the jail” or “in the jail”).

Alice was arrested and spent the night in jail.

If a specific jail has been previously mentioned or identified, we often need a determiner (the, a, this, that, etc.) before the noun.

Robert spent two days in the county jail.

The jail is dealing with overcrowding issues.

While criminals go to jail, visitors, social workers, etc. go to the jail or to a jail.

Jennifer went to the jail to visit her husband.

1. When to Omit the Determiner Before ‘Jail’

We can use the word “jail” to mention the general idea of being incarcerated after being accused or convicted of a crime. In this situation, we do not use an article (or another determiner) between the preposition and the word “jail”.

He spent eight months in jail.

Patricia got caught for not paying her taxes and went to jail.

They put him in jail because his wife testified against him.

When referring to a specific place or building for prisoners, we need a determiner (the, a, this, etc.) before the noun.

She was locked up in the city jail.

The county jail is overcrowded.

2. Jail vs. Prison

Jails are normally used to hold inmates for a relatively short period of time. They may be waiting their trial or have been given a short sentence of one year or less.

Susan spent two months in jail.

Prisons are long-term facilities designed for long-term incarceration.

David was sent to prison for seven years for fraud.

In everyday English, however, jail and prison are often used interchangeably as places of confinement.

The judge sent Michael to jail for seven years.

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