The shadowy domain of Pay-to-Stay jail programs

What are pay-to-stay jail programs?

Pay-to-stay jails are city operated jails in CA that allow certain folks convicted of misdemeanor and low-level offenses to spend their time in secluded jails that are relatively comfortable and removed from the usual custodial settings in CA for a daily fee. The pay-to-stay jail options are exclusively offered in Southern California counties, with one option in Fremont as the lone exception. Currently, there are nearly 200 beds for rent in Los Angeles and Orange counties. An excellent LA Times expose revealed that, “The California penal code section that allows people to serve county jail sentences in city jails specifies that the option is available for misdemeanor offenses committed in the same county where the pay-to-stay jail is located. But in practice, judges have allowed offenders convicted of felonies to participate in pay-to-stay — and allowed others to take advantage of the program even though they committed their crimes elsewhere. Nearly every pay-to-stay program welcomes people whose crimes have taken place across county or even state lines. In Southern California, city jails have housed more than 200 people who broke the law in Arizona, for instance, and have also accepted clients with arrests as far away as Iowa, Washington, Minnesota and Montana. Prices vary widely, with each city setting its own rate. Defendants can get a bargain-basement bed in La Verne for $25 a night or pay a modest $75 a night in Hawthorne. Or they can splurge, paying $198 a night in Redondo Beach or $251 a night in Hermosa Beach. Monterey Park even offers the option of serving time in half-day increments, for $51. The region’s pay-to-stay jails took in nearly $7 million from the programs from 2011 through 2015, according to revenue figures provided by the cities. In attracting paying customers, some cities openly tout their facilities as safer, cleaner and with more modern amenities. The Santa Ana jail’s website, for example, notes that jail is a ‘highly disruptive experience’ and promotes its jail as a place where criminals can serve their time in a ‘less intimidating environment.’ One of the most attractive conveniences in pay-to-stay programs — not available at county jail — is the option to go on work furlough, which allows people to go to their jobs with an ankle bracelet and return to the jail in the evenings to sleep. At least eight city jails offer work furlough, and most of the other pay-to-stay facilities allow people to serve time on weekends.” The work-release program recently allowed a professional basketball player for the Los Angeles Lakers to play in games while serving time for a DUI.

Who’s staying in these programs & for how long? 

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This sounds incredibly problematic. 

Yep, it certainly does. But it’s just another example that it’s better to be rich & guilty than poor & innocent in the criminal justice system. County jails in CA are replete with themes of brutality, overcrowding, violence, and fear. In comparison, pay-to-stay jails are like paradise. Just look at this advertisement:

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Is it still punishment?

Yes, but also not really. There is still a modest deprivation of liberty, but pay-to-stay allows these folks lives to go on mostly uninterrupted — a feature of the criminal justice system that few are privileged to enjoy. Demographic breakdowns of who’s taking advantage of these programs is not available, but we are probably correct in drawing our own conclusions about these *qwhite* interesting programs in Southern California.


Previously in the shadowy domain series: Sentence enhancements, Gang Injunctions

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