Money Matters: For A Fee Even Jail Can Be More Palatable

Categories // LA Focus, On the Money Wednesday, 05 July 2017

If you weren’t sure that justice can be a matter of how much money you have, consider Southern California’s “pay-to-stay”, “for profit”, or private jails where for a fee, felony offenders can opt for safer and more comfortable living arrangements with such amenities as flat screen TVs, yoga, well-stocked commissaries and or gyms.

Yep, that’s right. Money talks even with the jail system. 
Over 3,500 offenders—convicted of crimes ranging from DUI convictions, domestic violence and drug possession to assault, robbery and sex crimes—participated in pay-to-stay programs in Southern California from 2011 through 2015, according to The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focusing on the criminal justice system.
Fact is, state law allows people sentenced to time in county jails the option to pay a premium and serve that time in a city jail, offering any number of special accommodations including segregation from the general jail population of more serious and or violent offenders. And with the passage of Prop 47, came the reclassification of crimes that once resulted in hard time in favor of alternative sentencing options.
For $127 a night in a Fullerton jail, an inmate got their own TV, phone and refrigerator. Seal Beach offered access to a DVD player, movies and yard time. Some of the jails offer work furlough. Several allow people to serve time on weekends. In Huntington Beach, inmates paying $125 for the first day and $75 for each day thereafter were allowed to go to work during the day. In Hermosa Beach, participants can serve their sentences consecutively or a little at a time. In Glendale, one can opt to serve their time during any 2-4 day periods until they have served their entire sentence and inmates in Monrovia are not even allowed to do overnight stays. Instead, for a fee, they serve in shifts while performing cleanup, gardening and other duties. 
Beginning in 2007, over two dozen city jails in principalities surrounding L.A. and L.A. county participate in the program, including Burbank, Anaheim, Pasadena, Torrance, Hawthorne, Monterey Park, Glendale and Beverly Hills.  
For cities, who receive anywhere from an average of $75 to $250 a day, it is a means of income for facilities that are often underused. For the state, it is at least in part an answer to overcrowding.
For offenders, it is the offer of a less intimidating and safer experience. 
There are requirements. Often, participants are required to perform menial tasks around the jail.  
Without medical staff, most pay-to-stay programs won’t admit offenders with medical issues and some will not even accommodate those requiring medication. To that end, most of the jails require medical clearance. A history of violence will disqualify applicants from facilities.
Of course, court approval is required for enrollment in pay-to-stay programs and your attorney would have to petition the court on one’s behalf. But even with court approval, the final decision to accept or reject an application is in the hands of jail administrators.
Some like Beverly Hills require all fees to be paid in advance. Critics—some of whom have dubbed them “jail hotels”—argue that it is unfair with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) characterizing the program as “jail for the rich”.
Administrators have to walk a fine line between keeping the programs punitive enough to get judges to make the referral and making their programs attractive to inmates. At one time the sales pitch for Pasadena’s program was ‘bad things happen to good people’.  
“They invest in being here,” said one official. “And we invest in rehabilitating them.
“It’s not as bad as being in county jail, but by the same token, it’s no fun,” said Brenda Williams, who was more comfortable with the pay to stay program after a DUI arrest. “You might be paying, but it’s still a jail.’

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