Some Inmates In California Can Now Pay For Better Rooms In Jail

It wasn’t that long ago that 30,000 California inmates went on a hunger strike to restructure their solitary confinement policy, and now they’re getting the option to pay for more comfortable confinement quarters.

The Fremont Police Department has initiated the program, and the fee for the rooms, shared with other inmates, is $155 daily with a one-time fee of $45. Prisoners share a small bathroom, only a notch or two above regular county jail facility standards, however, an open community space that features a large flat-screen TV and tables topped with painted checkerboards and chess gives inmates a more relaxed atmosphere. Inmates also receive three free calling cards per day, each with five minutes of talking time and, similar to a hotel, there will also be free soap, towels, toothpaste, etc.

Only those convicted of misdemeanors will have the option to bypass the rougher county jails for cells at the police department. There is an application process, and inmates with gang affiliations or a history of violence or sex crimes will not be permitted. Major health conditions also disqualify inmates, because the Fremont jail has no medical staff, according to The Argus.

Some may object that prisoners are getting special treatment with the program. Carl Takei, an American Civil Liberties Union official, called it “a jail for the rich,” adding, “There should not be one form of punishment for those who can afford to pay and a different form of punishment for those who can’t.”

Lt. Mark Devine, who oversees the program, sees it differently.

It’s still a jail; there’s no special treatment,” he told The Argus. “They get the same cot, blanket and food as anybody in the county jail, except that our jail is smaller, quieter and away from the county jail population.”

Officials at the Fremont jail say the Pay-to-Stay program, which has not opened up to any guests as of yet, will help the facility pay for itself (costed $10.6 million to construct in 2002) and its daily operations.

The jail has 58 beds, but at any one time on the weekend we’re lucky if we have a dozen people using it,” Devine said. “We have a lot of unused capacity, so we have unused taxpayer-invested money just sitting there.”

This isn’t the first “pay to stay” program available in prison. A New York Times article titled “For $82 a Day, Booking A Cell In A 5-star Jail” discussed several county jails with similar options. According to the article, a typical person approved for the program is someone who, for example, was convicted of driving while intoxicated.