Tuesday, May 01, 2007

 

California: Where money's still worth something

California's motto "Eureka!"—the Greek for "I've found it!"—refers, as best I can tell, not to the discovery of gold in 1848 but to the delight of wealthy Americans when they find a state designed just for them. It's about as good as it gets for the well-heeled unless they move to an emirate.1

Two years ago I wrote about California's private divorces, a mahvellous system by which the wealthy hire their own judges to avoid the sweat and press of the public courts. But little did I know that you could rent your on jail cell.

According to Jennifer Steinhauer,

For offenders whose crimes are usually relatively minor (carjackers should not bother) and whose bank accounts remain lofty, a dozen or so city jails across the state offer pay-to-stay upgrades. Theirs are a clean, quiet, if not exactly recherché alternative to the standard county jails.... [Link added]

Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish.
....

For roughly $75 to $127 a day, these convicts — who are known in the self-pay parlance as “clients” — get a small cell behind a regular door, distance of some amplitude from violent offenders and, in some cases, the right to bring an iPod or computer on which to compose a novel, or perhaps a song.

Many of the overnighters are granted work furlough, enabling them to do most of their time on the job, returning to the jail simply to go to bed (often following a strip search, which granted is not so five-star).

The clients usually share a cell, but otherwise mix little with the ordinary nonpaying inmates, who tend to be people arrested and awaiting arraignment, or federal prisoners on trial or awaiting deportation and simply passing through.
....

While jails in other states may offer pay-to-stay programs, numerous jail experts said they did not know of any.

Why not let the well-to-do enjoy their wealth?

So what could be wrong with this system? The "clients" are saving the state money, right? Well, maybe not.

As Ken Kerle, managing editor of the publication American Jail Association, is quoted as saying—

I have never run into this. But the rest of the country doesn’t have Hollywood either. Most of the people who go to jail are economically disadvantaged, often mentally ill, with alcohol and drug problems and are functionally illiterate. They don’t have $80 a day for jail.

And reporter Steinhauer adds—

The California prison system, severely overcrowded, teeming with violence and infectious diseases and so dysfunctional that much of it is under court supervision, is one that anyone with the slightest means would most likely pay to avoid.

“The benefits are that you are isolated and you don’t have to expose yourself to the traditional county system,” said Christine Parker, a spokeswoman for CSI, a national provider of jails that runs three in Orange County with pay-to-stay programs. “You can avoid gang issues. You are restricted in terms of the number of people you are encountering and they are a similar persuasion such as you.”

Why, it's a goddam gated community! And the consequence is that the sort of people most able to compel change in such an unjust system are instead kept ignorant of it and remain untouched by it.

In fact, the separation of classes serves the architects and enforcers of this travesty of justice as much as it does the well-heeled miscreants. It helps avoid the lawsuits and media coverage that might follow if the "right" person were treated wrongly.

So these little outposts in the class war help in their own small way to perpetuate an enormously expensive, dysfunctional and cruel edifice that is little more than a human removal service and a welfare program for the "corrections" establishment.

Related posts
Hire your own judge; you'll help the system and save in the long run (6/15/05)
French prisons follow the American model—downhill (7/22/05)

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Footnote

1California is not perfect, as Michael Jackson has learned. His decision to move to Dubai was a wise one. Like California, Dubai has a large immigrant population to serve the whims of the moneyed classes, and the nice part is that the police don't even pretend to do anything other than keep the immigrants in line, as this little episode with Michael in the ladies room illustrates. [back]

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