In Southern California, if you are sentenced to a prison term of 365 days or less, you just might be able to decide how plush of a prison cell you would like to have. If you have the money to pay for a cell in a private city operated jail, doing the time for your crime might be seen as a welcomed retreat.
The city of Seal Beach, CA has a jail, where for the cost of $100 per night, you can spend your time this way, as they described it in an in LA Weekly advertisement in 2013- flat screen TVs, a computer and media room, and cleanliness — “Why spend your jail sentence of 365 days or less at county?”
This is the fortunate prison situation a man from Orange County, CA found himself in, after he was busted for operating a vehicle under the influence of heroin. After being sentenced to 90-days in jail, he spent his first 17-days in the county jail. That’s when his lawyer was able to get him placed at the Seal Beach jail to finish the rest of his sentence. He immediately paid the fee of $7,300 for his stay at Seal Beach, where he had a large selection of DVDs, books, and a continuous supply of hot water. He was even able to explain his long absence from home to his kids as an ‘extended business trip.’ Speaking of his time in prison, he said, “This is like paradise.”
Seal Beach now has a solid reputation as the go-to jail for deep-pocketed offenders. The jail generates more revenue than any other city jail in L.A. and Orange counties. At the end of June 2016, Seal Beach took in $365,000 from paying inmates. This revenue was almost half of the jail’s annual operating budget of $766,662. The city of Seal Beach is able to generate so much revenue because it tends to accept inmates who are charged with serious crimes, such as crimes involving violence, threats of violence, or sex-related offenses and tend to have longer sentences.
In Los Angeles and Orange counties, there’s at least twenty-six of these so-called “pay-to-stay” or “private jail” facilities, where a two-tiered justice system has evolved. Initially conceived as a way to combat overcrowding, the concept has become a way for well-heeled individuals to avoid the realities of serving an actual jail sentence.
The Marshall Project and the Los Angeles Times analyzed the records of more than 3,500 people who served time in Southern California’s pay-to-stay programs from 2011 through 2015. It was revealed that more than 160 participants in the program had been convicted of serious crimes including assault, robbery, domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse of children, and possession of child pornography.
The per night cost at these city jails vary widely, with each city setting their own rates. A ‘prisoner’ can get a relative bargain in La Verne for $25 a night. Or for a modest increase, $75 a night in Hawthorne. If money is no object, they can splurge and pay $198 a night in Redondo Beach or $251 a night in Hermosa Beach. The city of Monterey Park even offers the option of serving your jail time in half-day increments, for $51. “We just basically let them book their time,” said D.J. Casey, the lead records clerk for Monterey Park’s Police Department. “Sometimes they call and cancel and say, ‘My kid’s sick.’”