Ask Difference

Prison vs. Pokey — What's the Difference?

By Maham Liaqat & Fiza Rafique — Updated on April 23, 2024
Prison is a formal institution for incarceration, often for serious offenses, whereas "pokey" is a colloquial term for any small jail or prison, emphasizing a more informal or humorous aspect.
Prison vs. Pokey — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Prison and Pokey


Key Differences

Prison is a state or federal facility designed to detain individuals convicted of serious crimes, typically featuring long-term sentences. While "pokey" is slang, used mainly in informal conversation, referring to any small, local jail, often perceived as less formidable than larger prisons.
Prisons are managed by official correctional authorities who ensure security and rehabilitation, whereas the term "pokey" implies a less structured and smaller scale detention environment. In terms of facilities, prisons are equipped with numerous buildings and complex security measures. On the other hand, a "pokey" is often visualized as a single, less secure building.
Prisons offer various rehabilitation programs, including educational and vocational training aimed at reforming inmates. On the other hand, "pokey" generally lacks comprehensive rehabilitation services due to its smaller size and temporary holding nature.
The public perception of prisons is often negative, viewing them as places of harsh punishment; whereas "pokey" is typically referred to in a more light-hearted or trivial manner, suggesting a less harsh reality.

Comparison Chart


A facility for long-term detention of serious offenders.
A colloquial term for a small or local jail.


Operated by state or federal correctional authorities.
Typically managed locally, less formal.

Security Measures

High-level security with multiple safeguard systems.
Lower security, often pictured as less fortified.

Rehabilitation Programs

Offers extensive rehabilitation and education programs.
Limited or no rehabilitation services.

Public Perception

Viewed as a place for serious punishment.
Often referred to humorously or trivially.

Compare with Definitions


A facility for incarcerating individuals convicted of crimes.
After the trial, the felon was sent to prison.


Often used in casual or humorous contexts.
Caught shoplifting, she was threatened with a night in the pokey.


Managed by government authorities to ensure security and order.
The prison administration tightened security after the escape.


Slang for a jail, implying a smaller, less significant facility.
He spent a night in the pokey for disturbing the peace.


Offers programs aimed at inmate rehabilitation.
He learned carpentry in prison.


Less likely to have strict management or high security.
The pokey had a relaxed atmosphere compared to federal prisons.


Can house inmates serving various lengths of sentences.
Some inmates in prison are serving life sentences.


Typically implies temporary confinement.
The drunk driver was held in the pokey until sober.


Associated with a structured daily regimen for inmates.
The daily schedule in prison includes work assignments and meal times.


Rarely equipped with advanced rehabilitation facilities.
Don’t expect any education programs in the pokey.


A prison, also known as a jail or gaol (dated, British, Australian, and historically in Canada), penitentiary (American English and Canadian English), detention center (or detention centre outside the US), correction center, correctional facility, lock-up or remand center is a facility in which inmates (or prisoners) are confined and denied a variety of freedoms under the authority of the state as punishment for various crimes. Prisons are most commonly used within a criminal justice system: people charged with crimes may be imprisoned until their trial; those pleading or being found guilty of crimes at trial may be sentenced to a specified period of imprisonment.


A jail or prison.


A place for the confinement and punishment of persons convicted of crimes, especially felonies.


Dawdling; slow
Waited for the poky sales clerk to ring up the sale.


A state of imprisonment or captivity
Years spent in prison.


Frumpish; shabby
Found poky old clothes at the thrift store.


A place or condition of confinement or restriction
Felt his job had been a prison.


Small and cramped
A poky but inexpensive apartment.


To confine in or as if in a prison; imprison.


Variant of poky1.


A place or institution where people are held against their will, especially for long-term confinement of those awaiting trial or convicted of serious crimes or otherwise considered undesirable by the government.
The cold stone walls of the prison had stood for over a century.


Of small volume, cramped


(uncountable) Confinement in prison.
Prison was a harrowing experience for him.


(slang) slow


Any restrictive environment, such as a harsh academy or home.
The academy was a prison for many of its students because of its strict teachers.




(transitive) To imprison.




A place where persons are confined, or restrained of personal liberty; hence, a place or state o confinement, restraint, or safe custody.
Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name.
The tyrant Æolus, . . . With power imperial, curbs the struggling winds,And sounding tempests in dark prisons binds.




Specifically, a building for the safe custody or confinement of criminals and others committed by lawful authority.


See Poky.


To imprison; to shut up in, or as in, a prison; to confine; to restrain from liberty.
The prisoned eagle dies for rage.
His true respect will prison false desire.


A slang term for jail


To bind (together); to enchain.
Sir William Crispyn with the duke was ledTogether prisoned.


Wasting time


A correctional institution where persons are confined while on trial or for punishment


Small and remote and insignificant;
A jerkwater college
Passed a series of poky little one-horse towns


A prisonlike situation; a place of seeming confinement

Common Curiosities

How does public perception vary between a prison and a pokey?

Prisons are generally viewed negatively as places for harsh punishment, while pokeys are often referenced more humorously.

How do security levels differ between a prison and a pokey?

Prisons have high-level security with extensive measures, whereas pokeys are less secure and smaller.

Are there rehabilitation programs in both prisons and pokeys?

Prisons often have comprehensive rehabilitation programs, unlike pokeys, which usually lack these facilities.

What does "pokey" mean?

"Pokey" is informal slang for any small or local jail, typically implying a less serious facility.

What is a prison?

A prison is a secure facility where people convicted of serious crimes serve long-term sentences.

What types of crimes lead to imprisonment in a prison?

Serious offenses such as violent crimes, major thefts, or drug trafficking typically result in prison sentences.

What is the average duration of stay in a pokey?

The stay in a pokey is generally short, often just until arraignment or until bail is posted.

Is "pokey" used in formal legal contexts?

No, "pokey" is a colloquial term and not used in formal legal discussions.

Can you serve a long-term sentence in a pokey?

No, pokeys are generally for short-term detention, not for long-term sentences.

Who manages pokeys?

Pokeys are usually managed locally, often with less formal oversight.

Are prisons and pokeys the same thing?

No, they differ significantly in terms of size, security, management, and the nature of detention.

Who manages prisons?

Prisons are managed by state or federal correctional authorities.

How does inmate treatment differ between prisons and pokeys?

Inmate treatment in prisons is regulated and structured, whereas in pokeys, it can be less formal and variable.

How does the facility structure differ between prisons and pokeys?

Prisons are complex with multiple buildings and facilities, while pokeys are usually single, simpler structures.

Share Your Discovery

Share via Social Media
Embed This Content
Embed Code
Share Directly via Messenger
Previous Comparison
Assemble vs. Gather
Next Comparison
Division vs. Split

Author Spotlight

Written by
Maham Liaqat
Co-written by
Fiza Rafique
Fiza Rafique is a skilled content writer at, where she meticulously refines and enhances written pieces. Drawing from her vast editorial expertise, Fiza ensures clarity, accuracy, and precision in every article. Passionate about language, she continually seeks to elevate the quality of content for readers worldwide.

Popular Comparisons

Trending Comparisons

New Comparisons

Trending Terms