The New York Times reported this week you can serve jail time in California via a “Pay to Stay Upgrade” if you have enough money and if your crime is relatively minor. Convicted drunk drivers are welcome. For $82.00 USD a day you can buy a private room in a “jail facility” with a regular door and the “right to bring an iPod or computer or cellphone:”

“It seems to be to be a little unfair,” said Mike Jackson, the training manager of the National Sheriff’s Association. “Two people come in, have the same offense, and the guy who has money gets to pay to stay and the other doesn’t.The system is supposed to be equitable.” But cities argue that the paying inmates generate cash, often hundreds of thousands of dollars a year — enabling them to better afford their other taxpayer-financed operations — and are generally easy to deal with.

How do you feel about the privilege of being able to pay your way out of doing hard time? If it fair and equitable that if you are indigent or poor and cannot afford $2,500.00 USD a month to serve your time in relative luxury that you are remanded into the pits of prison or the curse of the county jail?

Are you offended by the slogan — “Bad Things Happen to Good People” — created in the 1990’s by the Pasadena jail to help sell the “for pay” jail program? Does that slogan suggest you’re only a “good person” if you have enough money to pay your way out of traditional incarceration?

I would love to know the Racial breakdown of the for-pay jail system — somehow I get an inkling that we will see a large disparity between Whites and Blacks involved in the program. Should incarceration programs be revenue-generating industries — or is there an inconsolable indifference between the interests of prisoner rehabilitation and city commerce rotating in the urban core?


  1. David,
    I do not think this is a good program.
    Going to jail is supposed to be punishment for a crime committed; why on Earth should some people be allowed to buy their way into one that is less severe?

  2. Hi Emily!
    I agree! Don’t we have this kind of unequal injustice in the Federal program as well? White Collar crimes are punished with stays in a minimum security “prison” in Connecticut while those with less money and influence are sent to Attica.
    Are there any “pay to serve” programs in Oklahoma?

  3. I have to chime in and say that I think this program is a bad idea and only serves to cause more division. A crime is a crime, do the time on an equal standing.
    We cannot use the guise of revenue to wash away all evils. The prison system in our country is somewhat broken. A program like this, although marketed as a bit of a fix, is actually adding to the dysfunction.
    Now for the candid honesty. If I was convicted of a crime, and could pay the cash, I would jump on this. I know that is hypocritical, but I have to be honest. The temptation of an easier prison stay would be too hard to resist.
    The fix, of course, would be to do away with the horrible program in the first place.

  4. Hi Eban!
    Thanks for the honest and frank comment. You make an excellent point in shooing us the other way. If there is a desire and a need to pay for better jail conditions — shouldn’t we be looking at the standard prison systems?
    If the idea of incarceration is to rehabilitate criminals so they can become productive members of society, how can we bear the current unsafe, criminal, and over-crowded status quo of our prisons?
    I’m not saying prisons should be resorts but they should be safe and clean and provide real means of correcting bad behavior instead of just being a dead end into death.

  5. This is such an obviously stupid, unbalanced program that it’s barely worth the thought, to be honest.
    But then, you have to look at the motivation. It’s sad that they have to resort to this sort of method in order to raise enough money to get things done.

  6. One of the reasons for incarceration is to punish and to make prison a place you never wish to return after a successful rehabilitation.
    These pay programs do not really punish. Most people are on work furlough so many of them spend less than 12 hours “locked up” in these places. They’re basically hotels where they can sleep and eat and “pay their debt to society” out of their bank accounts.

  7. David,
    This sort of “upgrade” program does not exist in Oklahoma, at least that I am aware of.
    However, I suppose I must also follow in the candid footsteps of Eban and admit that, if I were convicted of a crime, I would wrap my greedy little hands around this policy and giggle with glee as I paid the extra $82.00 for access to my cell and nano!

  8. Hi Emily!
    Knowing the current state of the jails and prisons in America, I confess I, too, would leap at the chance to live in relative safety while doing my time if I had time to do.
    I realize the idea of “rehabilitation” in prison has been tossed out and replaced with the want for ongoing and mandatory punishment — incarcerations are rising not falling — and if all crimes are not created equal then, some may argue, the quality of the serving of time must also be unequal as well.
    I just wish there were some way to equalize this process so poor people who committed the same crimes as those in the “for pay” jails could also participate in the friendlier confines.

  9. I think this issue is about what you expect from the penal system. Emily obviously expects it to be mainly punitive but this is not the only reason people are sent to jail.
    They are there to keep them away from other people that they may harm. They are there in the hope that something can be done to rehabilitate them.
    I am assuming that this upgrade won’t allow them to come and go from the prison as they wish, so they are still prisoners; locked away from their family and friends. This is punishment to plenty of people. Paying for the privilege will also likely add insult to injury for many of them (although I imagine they will still pay) and thereby add to the punishment.
    Is it fair that some can afford this upgrade and some can’t? No, certainly not, but perhaps prisoners shouldn’t really expect fair – after all they are there for a reason.
    Do I think this is a good idea? I’m kind of torn but on the whole I’d say it’s a pretty good (and certainly imaginative) solution to underfunded prison services.
    Let’s hope they put this extra income to good use and try and give some of these people the hope of a “normal” life when they get out so that they don’t feel the need to rely on crime and can contribute to society in a positve way.
    Now that would make the scheme a true success.

  10. Hi Mike —
    Most of the people who “play to play” work — so they get to leave on work furlough for most of the day. These “jails” try to keep them “incarcerated” for at least 12 hours a day but that rarely works out when you’re dealing with “movers and shakers” who don’t work 9-5 jobs.

  11. This is interesting.
    I came to know about this concept for the first time while talking to one of our maintenance person in our previous apartment who refused to come at a certain point of time because he had to “serve his time”.
    I in fact considered that as a mark of liberating and developed society without knowing about the hidden inequality.
    Money talks, even in the justice system!

  12. Hi Katha!
    What is the penal system like in India? Does everyone serve in the same system or is there a separate prison system for those who have money and influence?

  13. I am not aware of any obvious difference or inequality in the Indian Penal system but if you have money you can “buy” everybody there, starting from the police to the witness and the judge – it’s a farce.

  14. That prison cell looks like a dorm room. I knew those things were based on prison cells!
    I think this is ridiculously unfair. That’s 30,000 a year. Thats more than many peoples salaries! You’d have to be pretty well off, or have parents that were to be able to afford that.
    Jail should be the same for everyone. And that slogan is insulting. First off, there shouldn’t be ‘good people’ in prison. People who are there should be there because they did something. If they didn’t break a law, or its not an ‘important’ law, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place. Otherwise, all they are saying is that rich people are ‘good’ and poor people are ‘bad’. It makes me angry. It doesn’t make sense either. There have to be better ways to raise money.

  15. It is wrong – completely defeats the object of punishment or rehabilitation or paying for ones crime.

  16. Hi Katha!
    Yes, it’s pretty much the same here — you can buy your way out of trouble unless you kill someone. Everything else, even severe injury, always has a price.

  17. People get let out to go to work?! Perhaps I’m just ignorant but I’ve never heard of that in any other country.
    I’d say that was a bigger problem than allowing people to pay for “upgraded” accommodation.
    I’d also say that the only real objection to the scheme appears to be that it makes the sentence less punitive. If we accept that prison should be more about rehabilitation than punishment (at least in the less than extreme cases where there would be a decent chance at rehabilitation given suitable resources. In extreme cases I believe that life should equal life) then there is really nothing wrong with the scheme.

  18. Hi Stacy!
    Ha! It does look like a dorm room! The blankets are very un-prison-like, too.
    I think most stints are under 90 days, though the article does say one guy wanted to pay up front to stay there for 4 years.
    I agree the whole system is unfair and those with money who do wrong in California now have a state-sponsored way to not pay for their misdeeds.

  19. Hi Nicola!
    Here’s an interesting story you might enjoy:

    The following diary is excerpted from a journal I kept while incarcerated in December 2006 and January 2007 at Her Majesty’s Prison at Wormwood Scrubs, London. Until December, I had never before been in a prison of any kind, for any reason, let alone such a filthy, decrepit, Victorian heap of stone and sadism as the Scrubs.

  20. “Buying” lawfully as you wrote in your post or unlawfully?
    You might even bypass the system in India even after killing someone if you are that infuential…

  21. Mike!
    There is a lot of prison overcrowding in the USA due to drugs and violent crimes people commit to get and sell those drugs.
    There are “lesser crimes” that deserve punishment, but not necessarily incarceration in a prison, I guess, so some people can do these “hotel jails” instead or be remanded to their homes and watches by a wireless reporting system and they can still go to work and home as long as they’re hooked up at home to the monitoring system during certain hours.

  22. Hi Katha!
    Right! When it comes to money — there’s no lawful or unlawful because it’s all ugly.
    Getting away with murder is something people never forget.

  23. Right, but if they are in prison how does letting them out for 8 hours a day reduce overcrowding? They still have to sleep there, right? Perhaps these “non-dangerous” people should be getting tagged or confined to their homes instead.
    I don’t think that making prisons harsher is the answer. Unfortunately prisons are always going to be the last line. Stopping crime really has to be done much earlier by tackling the social problems that lead to it (primarily poverty).

  24. Hi David,
    There is a debate ongoing in my city over open enrollment in the public schools, due to the building of two new schools in affluent neighborhoods. As one council member pointed out, the policy of open enrollment or free choice, has already been dealt with years ago by the NAACP and the ACLU.
    This policy would enable people who are well off to send their children to the new schools, even if they lived across town (they could transport them in their BMWs and Volvos). At the same time, the poor kids in the projects would have to rely on the school buses which would not transport them to the affluent schools.
    A system that allows the more affluent to afford better schools or better conditions in prison is grossly discriminatory.
    I guess that’s what you get when you put the pigs in charge. They become greedy and change the writing on the barn wall. “All are equal under the law” becomes “All are equal under the law, but some are more equal than others (especially if you have money).”

  25. You’re right, Mike, that work release doesn’t punish the person. The reason work furloughs are granted is if the convicted is the sole breadwinner and there are young children in the home to feed. Allowing the “lesser criminal” to work then avoids punishing the innocent child.
    I agree all prisons could be made kinder and we need to fix those housed there before they ever cross the threshold.

  26. Excellent insight, Donna!
    We have previously discussed here how having street parking permits for certain neighborhoods restricts visitors to those urban areas and that usually means poor people who do not have the right “sticker” have no way to visit friends or to park on streets on which they do not “belong” even though they are citizens of the community and have a right to walk on the streets.
    School choice and bussing all have a harried history in the USA and now school vouchers threaten the very public school system our nation celebrated as being first rate no more than 40 years ago.

  27. Thank you for the interesting link – I wonder if it is any better or worse than American prisons.
    It does highlight how Mr Blair governs by fear and how effective the inculcation has been.

  28. I think the prisons are about the same, though there seems to be a bit more freedom in the UK prison the author describes than we generally have here.

  29. That’s an interesting link, Nicola. We’re against Racial Profiling here when it comes to terrorism — so we punish everyone — instead of saving time and money, as the Israelis do, by focusing on the real threats that, for now anyway, mainly come from one part of the world.

  30. The argument here is that this proposed move is Racial profiling and racist. We have local elections tomorrow and I think there is a lot of pot stirring going on – considerable anti- American sentiment being shown and a lot of pressure on the government over it. Caused quite a stir.

  31. So it it Racial profiling if most of the terroristic threats and active terrorism are coming from those of Middle Eastern background? Or are elderly Caucasian women from Sussex also equally suspect?

  32. Hi David,
    Interesting program. It probably makes sense to allow some minor offenders to stay away from the hard core prisoners who are in jail awaiting trial for serious offenses.
    I wonder if there’s a difference between the private prison cell vs. home detention or work release? Or, allowing people to pay a fine and work on a road crew, instead of spending a weekend in jail? All of these programs require some sort of monetary investment on the part of the prisoner, in lieu serving jail time in the regular lockup.

  33. I agree in levels of punishment when it comes to criminality, Chris, I just wish the justice wasn’t meted out by income level and ability to pay.
    I think home detention is much better than paying for a prison hotel because you can sleep in your own bed and be with your family.
    In the UK — in the story I linked for Nicola — the guy telling the story had to pay a $2,000.00 USD fine and since he didn’t have the money he had to “work it off” in prison by staying an extra 9 days. I find that odd. You cost the system more by staying longer because you can’t afford to pay a fine? Illogical!

  34. This particular visa requirement is aimed at British passport holding Pakistanis.
    The majority of the anti immigration sentiment in the UK is aimed at those of colour – with middle eastern types at the head of the list – shortly followed by West Indian gangs.
    All the 80 year old white Caucasian has to worry about is being discriminated against because of her age.

  35. Hi Nicola —
    In the USA we pretend we are not doing Racial Profiling by putting the Caucasian elderly through random searches at airports even though the real intention is to target those with Middle Eastern ties.

  36. Hi David,
    There is always some sort of monetary payment required to be involved in the alternative programs. Home detention prisoners have to pay extra fees to pay for their monitoring equipment. Prisoners on work release usually end up having wage garnishment orders applied to their paychecks to pay for their stays. And, to even be considered for any of those programs requires having a certain level of personal stability — usually measured by property ownership, having a job, having lived at a certain address for a period of time, having a telephone and utility service, etc.
    The thing that most struck me about the photo was that the room looked a lot like a dorm room with a loft.
    Several years ago, there were fugitives from Mississippi who were captured in our county. I remember reading that the two fugitives asked if they could be sentenced to time in our county jail, rather than being sent back to Mississippi’s correctional system because they thought the food was better here. Of course, they were sent back to Mississippi so that taxpayers here wouldn’t have to pay for their room and board.

  37. Hi Chris —
    I understand these extra chits cost money — it’s just too bad that you have to have money before you can participate. It seems the poorer criminals are most punished in the system because they can’t hire fancy lawyers in the first place or opt for the for-pay system of justice others can exploit.
    I think the hopelessness your link provides — “Escaped Convicts Had Nothing To Lose” — testifies to the drudgery of doing time. All prisoners should have some hope for reform or reward or rehabilitation or getting out if they aren’t on Death Row or they become desperate, dying, animals in search of any escape at any cost.

  38. Last time we travelled it was noticeable that the target group that day was men.
    It was all the men that had to take their shoes off and men that were getting searched. All of them had to remove their shoes – and about one in five got the full body search.

  39. We put on a much better show, here Nicola. 😀
    Al Gore was strip searched here at an airport awhile back. There is a great feeling of satisfying egalitarianism among the elite when our icons are treated like the ever day ordinary when it comes to security.
    Do you have the new airport X-Ray system yet that shows your private parts beneath your clothes?

  40. I just ran across this story. What type of jail stay do you think Miss Hilton will probably get if the prosecution gets it’s way? It may be the first time that an inmate gets a private room and creature comforts, but also a conjugal visit that gets recorded for Internet sale.
    Prosecutors want jail time for Hilton

  41. Hi Eban!
    Those “for pay” prisons require approval from the prosecution and the judge — and Ms. Hilton’s prosecutors are angry and they feel used and lied to — they want her blood and they want it provided in a dirty and filthy hard time.
    She isn’t going to get to pay her way out of this. They have her head in a vise and they’re going to squeeze her until her head pops off to set an example.

  42. Maybe I am getting cranky and mean as I age, but the way you described the prosecution’s intentions brought a sly grin to my face. Go figure. I wish I knew the spelling of the German word for taking pleasure in another’s misery, because I think I just crossed that line, lol.

  43. Hi Eban!
    Yes, you — AND ALL OF US — get cranky as we age because we get tired of the Paris Hilton types sucking up all the free air in the world with her selfish interests.
    I think the German word you’re thinking of is “Schadenfraude” — but that term applies to taking undeserved pleasure in the misery of others as in “April Fool’s Day” and “Candid Camera.”
    Ms. Hilton earned her lot and we all want to see her pay the price a lesser, less-monied, mortal would have to pony up in a similar state.

  44. Paris Hilton will properly pay her debt to society (emphasis added):

    Asked whether she had understood the terms of the drunk-driving plea that she agreed to Jan. 22, Hilton, 26, said: “I just sign what people tell me to sign…. I’m a very busy person.”
    At one point, her attorney, Howard L. Weitzman — calling his client someone with “unique issues and needs” who simply made a mistake — tried to shoulder some of the fault Hilton was placing on others.
    Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer saw it otherwise.
    “She disregarded everything and continued to drive,” Sauer said.
    And he made it clear that he wanted no special treatment for Hilton — an heiress to the Hilton hotel fortune and a successful entrepreneur in her own right — ordering her to spend her sentence in a county jail and not a privately run “glamour slammer” where other celebrities have done their time.

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