Friday, April 12, 2013

The Cautionary Instruction: Going to prison? Buy an upgrade

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/Ipso Facto
April 12, 2013

A number of states across the country have tinkered with the idea of making inmates pay to stay in state prisons or county jails. Critics say the idea of expecting prisoners to pay is absurd. Some have suggested that extending prison stays because an inmate can’t pay is not only bizarre but creates essentially a “debtors prison.” Others have suggested that pay-to-stay is “a poor person’s tax.”

California has taken it a step further. An inmate in California, in any number of jails, can pay for an upgrade.

Some inmates at the Glendale City Jail, for $85 a day, sleep in separate quarters from other inmates, have access to phones, showers and day-room areas. It is not all fun and games, inmates must perform laundry and janitorial tasks inside the jail to get their two cold meals and one hot meal each day.

"I don't feel that burden should be placed on the taxpayers," Jail Administrator Juan Lopez said, adding that inmates "should pay their own way." And get better treatment if they have the money.

Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world, reported The New York Times. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish.

For roughly $85 to $198 a day, these convicts -- who are known in the self-pay parlance as “clients” -- get a small cell behind a regular door, insulation from contact with violent offenders and, in some cases, the right to bring in an iPod or computer.

Contrast that with the nonpaying inmates at the jails of Los Angeles County. Regularly about 21,000 detainees are held in filthy overcrowded cells—four men in cells built for two and six men in cells built for four. In 2006, Federal Judge Dean D. Pregerson observed inmates must stay in their bunks at all times because there is not enough room for them to stand.

Most of the pay-to-stay programs -- which offer 10 to 30 beds -- stay full enough that marketing is not necessary, though that is not always the case. Here’s how California’s Fullerton City Jail advertises it pay-to-stay program on its website. “With the permission of the sentencing Court, men may select to serve their sentence [here] ... housed separate from all other inmates and will have minimal contact with non-sentenced inmates.”

Celebrities, including actor Kiefer Sutherland, and top movie executives have paid to stay in the Glendale jail.

Judges in other states, including Arizona, Nevada and Utah, have allowed some Los Angeles County residents who committed crimes in their states to serve their sentences in the Glendale jail.

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