Upgrade your jail cell – for a price

I’m of two minds about a ‘pay-to-stay’ plan being offered by some California jails.

In what is commonly called “pay-to-stay” or “private jail,” a constellation of small city jails — at least 26 of them in Los Angeles and Orange counties — open their doors to defendants who can afford the option. But what started out as an antidote to overcrowding has evolved into a two-tiered justice system that allows people convicted of serious crimes to buy their way into safer and more comfortable jail stays.

An analysis by the Marshall Project and the Los Angeles Times of the more than 3,500 people who served time in Southern California’s pay-to-stay programs from 2011 through 2015 found more than 160 participants who had been convicted of serious crimes including assault, robbery, domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography.

. . .

Pay-to-stay jail assignments make up only a small fraction of the tens of thousands of inmates sent to detention centers in Southern California each year. But allowing some defendants to avoid the region’s notoriously dangerous county jails has long rankled some in law enforcement who believe it runs counter to the spirit of equal justice.

. . .

“The whole criminal justice system is becoming more and more about: How much money do you have? Can you afford better attorneys? Can you afford to pay for a nicer place to stay?” said John Eum, a detective with the Los Angeles Police Department …

Pay to stay is not cheap. From 2011 through 2015, the average cost of a stay — which can last from just one day to more than a year — was $1,756.

The most expensive stay, according to jail records, was $72,050, paid by a man responsible for a drunken freeway crash that killed one of his passengers.

There’s more at the link.

I can see the disadvantages of such a program, particularly the avoidance of an unpleasant jail experience – which is part of the deterrent effect supposed to be part and parcel of prison sentences.

On the other hand, I can see some older, less physically fit, or otherwise vulnerable individuals being actually safer in such places, because they’d undoubtedly be preyed upon by ‘regular’ criminals in a normal facility.  That can produce security issues and threats that spread much wider than the individuals involved.  I wrote about some of those incidents in my memoir of prison chaplaincy.

This is a conundrum that doesn’t have an easy answer.  I don’t like the fact that it exists . . . but it may serve a valid purpose for some few inmates.  Right or wrong?  Let us know your views in Comments.



  1. There will always be abuse of any system, good or bad. Might help if there was a sliding scale WRT the offense and age. At least that is a start….

  2. Doesn't the legal system exist primarily to expose and advertise the "warts" of the "undesirable" and "unwanted" to the "greater collective"?

    And aren't the authorities essentially "the overlords of the overprivileged"?

  3. All this does is highlight the moral bankruptcy of the State. If certain individuals are upset that safe places of incarceration are available for individuals with money… that allow said individuals to avoid the prospect of being beaten, raped, infected with deadly diseases such as HIV and even killed… What does it say about the fact the State allows the "bad" places of incarceration to exist?

    Perhaps each prisoner should be subjected to a lottery-style drawing that awards beatings, rapes, infections and even death based on the probability such will occur in one of the state's facilities. If, for example, the lottery drawing determines a prisoner is to be beaten, raped and infected with HIV, agents of the state should beat him, rape him and infect him with HIV. If that isn't reasonable, then fix the problems that allow such activities to occur in the jails.

    The idea that jails and prisons are dangerous places and that offers a deterrent to crime simply turns the punishment function over to the arbitrary whims of criminals. Obviously we have accepted this idea that criminals now have the sanction of the state to be part of the punishment process… but what happened to "innocent until proven guilty" when the person is arrested, charged with a crime and jailed pending the outcome of the trial? By maintaining the "bad places" we have effectively begun the punishment before the individual is convicted.

    Should I mention that by incarcerating individuals, the state is taking on the responsibility for their safety? Probably not. Nobody wants to hear that.

    Should I get Biblical and point out that God never said to build a prison? That the entire concept of a penitentiary was the idea that Christian penitents who had sinned needed time to reflect and ask forgiveness for what they had done? That locking criminals in cages with other criminals simply makes them better criminals? Should I point out that God's system was two-tiered? Individuals either made restitution and received corporal punishment, or they were killed. The death penalty crimes were clear as well as the rules.

    It will be poetic justice later, because when things fall apart and the civil war gets racially genocidal (and it will), the black gangs looking for shock troops will simply crack open a prison, kill the whites/hispanics, arm the blacks and point them in the right direction. It will be like demons swarming up from the pit of hell for those communities in their path. And for those who think that won't happen, the fastest growing prison gang is military combat veterans…

  4. I see no issues with private, pay-to-stay prisons. Actually, I think it is ideal.

    The purpose of prison is threefold: to remove the offender from general society for the safety of society, to punish the offender, and to rehabilitate the offender and make him/her fit to return to society, if possible.

    Punishment doesn't necessarily mean an exceedingly unpleasant prison experience. Punishment could be the loss of personal freedom and the interruption of your plans for several years. It is the waste of a significant portion of your existence where you are subject to the control of the prison authorities, and not your own liberty.

    If you can afford to pay for your own stay, it defers costs that society would otherwise have to pay. If possible, you could work a prison job, earn a wage, pay your rent and food, and generally act like the majority of society outside of prison. This is good practice for living outside of prison. It is rehabilitation. If myou learn that hard work and more valuable skills allow for greater reward and an easier time in prison, that's even better.

    And while someone is prison, they are still contained.

    It's a win all around.

  5. Prison reform is always a tough sell for politicians. Money is always short and there is no doubt at the next election your opponent will say you are "soft on crime" and "coddling criminals". Many of us will say the criminals deserve these hellish prisons and after all why should we worry…we are never going to be put in one. But what if a son or grandson makes a life altering mistake and is sentenced to one? Do we than have to sell the house or something to prevent him from being beaten, raped, or murdered by the violent psychopaths that "run" those places? Prison reform is something that needs to be done and we should all support those who are brave enough to try to do it. And no I am not some bleeding heart Liberal. I just know Karma can be a real bad old gal and we reap what we sow.

  6. "the black gangs looking for shock troops will simply crack open a prison, kill the whites/hispanics, arm the blacks and point them in the right direction. It will be like demons swarming up from the pit of hell for those communities in their path."

    Doubtful, at least in my neck of the woods. Around here the prisons are mostly in rural areas, far from gangs and cities. The gangs would have to fight their way there, fight to take the prison, find arms, food and water, then fight their way out. If it gets that bad, I fully expect road blocks on all major roads in and out of the urban hellholes with back roads shut down completely by felling of trees or a blockade on a bridge or two. It would look like the highway of death by the time the deer rifles got through with the gangs.

    You also have to consider that there are roughly 190 million whites in the US, 50 million Hispanics and only 37 million blacks. Blacks are outnumbered 6 to 1.

    Never mind that any gangs coming up from Memphis or Nashville would have to deal with the 101st from Fort Campbell. Cutting 7 bridges would isolate an area of at least 3500 square miles that could control 3 major rivers.

  7. Chris,

    Don't you think that, if TSHTF cops/deputies/troopers will be either squashing violence in the cities or at home protecting their families (the latter being most likely)?
    Do you think the 101st will be sitting there at Fort Campbell in order to protect the prison? Or is it more likely they will be assigned duties elsewhere? Or, again like state and local LEOs, at home protecting families? (I'm was a military brat, so yes, I know a lot of families live in base housing – or use to, anyway).

    Not trying to demolish your notion of what might happen, but while I imagine _some_ gangs will work at consolidating their power in the cities first, some slightly brighter gang leaders may decide it would be safer and smarter to look for resources (especially food) _away_ from the cities, where there is too much competition, plus the trucks can no longer even get to them with food and other commodities.

    One of the weaknesses of supporting and defending individual rights and liberty is that our sort of folks aren't all that good at gathering together, let alone in defense of our communities. Yeah, we will _have_ to come together or die, but I'm guessing there will be a fair amount of dying before the "coming together" part happens.

    Gangs – including the commie gangs who run most of state and federal governments – will have the upper hand at first, because they have a lot more experience at organizing, mobilizing, and marching – whether it is to protest or to riot and loot. I believe they have already organized their kind in a _lot_ of prisons, so they very well may have plans in place to free and round up their cohorts. Blacks, Mexicans, Central Americans (think MS-13), and other groups have had their stuff organized inside prisons for a long, long time.

    It's comforting to think that those of us out here in fly-over land can "take out the trash", but I'm pretty sure it isn't going to be that easy, even if we out-number the them. And don't forget Matt Bracken's notion that our beloved .gov might invite foreign troops to help them squash the peasants if it looks like the peasants might be successful at resisting their agenda.

    Hell, they've already invited foreign troops, but they are not here in numbers large enough just yet, although they are already starting "lone wolf" action against our country, our communities.

  8. Prisons are, and excuse the profanity, unimaginably fucked up places. The average person has no clue just how bad they are. Unless you've worked in one or had the misfortune to be confined in one by the state you just can't grasp how utterly out of control they are. You've got truly subhuman vicious animals, violent and non-violent professional criminals, mentally miswired perpetual screw ups, sexual deviants of various stripes, the profoundly mentally ill, the mentally retarded, otherwise law abiding people caught up in drug offenses and other malum prohibitum "crimes" and more often than you'd like to believe the totally innocent. All of these people get locked up in buildings together and what happens is something far, far worse than what the state decreed to be your punishment in a court of law. It's beyond medieval. You were ordered to be confined for a period of time and not raped, brutalized, beaten, infected, murdered, exploited, tortured or the other myriad of extrajudicial punishments you are subjected to while in the custody of the state. If society deems those things fit punishments it should be done openly and specifically in a court of law by a jury and carried out publicly by agents of the state.

    The prisoners aren't the only ones getting more than they bargained for. The guards and other prison personnel get messed up too. Being in charge of the lives of other human beings changes you. Sometimes it's minimal but more often than not it's in a profound and negative way. It's not good for your mental health and probably why a disturbingly large number of current or former COs I know or worked with end up serious alcoholics. I've become convinced that most people shouldn't spend very long in that line of work. It's just too damaging to your mind.

    The whole system is desperately messed up and totally dysfunctional but I see no desire from the general public (they don't know or care) or the state to even attempt to bring some order to the chaos let alone any sort of fundamental reform of the industry. There's just too much money to be made as is.

  9. First, I thought it was adorable how they used "serious crimes" instead of "felony offenses" or something similar, because that way they could slap "domestic violence" (doesn't say whether it's misdemeanor or felony) right next to child-rape. Are both things horrible? Yes, absolutely! But one is horrible in a way that the perpetrator deserves a beating; the other is horrible in a way that the perpetrator deserves crucifixion. Different tiers of awfulness.

    Second, they say "defendants" then "…convicted of serious crimes…" …which one is it? If you've been convicted, you're not a defendant anymore. You might be an appellant (if you appeal your conviction) but you're still not a *defendant*. At best, it's a sign of sloppiness, at worst, a sign of apathetic, willfully ignorant jourmalism.

    Other than that, I pretty much agree with Artisanal Toad. If the normal (state-run) prison is so horrific that it seems "unfair" for some prisoners to not have to suffer such unspeakable horrors, the problem is with the state-run prison, *not* the prison that lacks the horrors that infect the state-run prison. I mean, isn't that kind of obvious?

    PS: if, for every prisoner raped in prison, the prosecutor, prison warden, and Judge were legally mandated to be subjected to a similarly forceful violation, how long do you think it would take before prison rape ceased to existing as a problem? Not long, I suspect, with that kind of motivation. But in the meantime I would experience a truly dangerous amount of schadenfreude. *cackling laughter*

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