Some prisoner’s in Northern California are upgrading to better living spaces – but only if they’ve got the cash to pay.
That’s because a jail in Fremont is offering prisoners the chance to pay-as-they-go for a cell in the prison . And the rent isn’t cheap, running $155 a night, the same as a local three star hotel, according to local affiliate WTKR.
“You do get cable TV, but you don’t get a warm cookie on your bed,” Lt. Mark Devine, of the Fremont Police Department told the station.
The $10 million minimum security prison is far from luxurious with standard prison beds, shared bathroom and shower space. But it does come with various recreational options, including a HD widescreen TV.
Built in 2000, the prison facility has 54 beds and can house up to 96 inmates at a time.
And the space is only eligible to misdemeanor offenders who receive prior approval from a judge.
While the program is unusual, the Fremont Police Department said that similar “Pay to Stay” programs currently exist in Southern California cities such as Anaheim and Beverly Hills .
So, why would a prisoner pay so much money to essentially live in the same conditions they’d find in one of the other state prisons? It turns out, they’re not paying for added value, but rather what’s not there.
“The only other thing you’re really paying for is the smallness and the quietness of the facility,” Devine told WTKR.
California Governor Jerry Brown was recently tasked with finding ways to reduce the burden of the state’s overcrowded prison system.
And it could provide an economic boost for the local economy. Devine told the Sacramento Bee that if at least 16 inmates stay at the facility for two nights a week, the city would make an annual profit of about $244,000.
Devine says the prison was originally intended to be used for misdemeanor offenders to perform work while they served out their time. But the prison had remained unused until it was opened for the pay-as-you-go system.
“We are the trustees of a large facility that was paid for with taxpayer money. Now we need to be good stewards of that investment and maximize its use and efficiency for the taxpayers,” Devine said. “There is a cost to government. And that cost, where appropriate, should be borne by the people using the program or facility, or what not.”
However, the pay-as-you-go plan has drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, who said it creates a bad precedent by giving more preferential treatment to wealthier inmates.
"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," ACLU National Prison Project attorney Carl Takei told the Bee.