Today in “Disgusting Symptoms of Sky-High Economic Inequality” … special jails for rich people. Alternet’s Kari Holloway reports on this Southern California phenomenon:
The price to stay in one of these city jails can run the gamut from $25 a day in La Verne to just over $250 in Hermosa Beach. A collaborative investigation by the Los Angeles Times and the Marshall Project found that for $100 a night, inmates in Seal Beach’s pay-for-stay program had access to “amenities that included flat-screen TVs, a computer room and new beds.” The cost also affords inmates “semi-private rooms, single showers and the ability to… make phone calls whenever they want.” In addition to creature comforts, the program lets those with resources buy their way out of serving time in the Los Angeles and Orange County jails, where overcrowding, violence and inhumane conditions are often baked into every jail sentence.
“The benefits are that you are isolated and you don’t have to expose yourself to the traditional county system,” Christine Parker, of Correctional Systems Inc., which runs three pay-to-stay programs, told the New York Times. “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.”
“A similar persuasion,” meaning rich and, let’s face it, white. But it’s not just semi-private rooms and flat-screen TVs.
Some of the collateral consequences of even short jail stays—loss of relationships and jobs—can be avoided by pay-to-stay programs. Unlike the Los Angeles and Orange County jails, many of SoCal’s private jails allow inmates to serve out their time on the weekends, allowing them to live normally during the weekdays. Eight programs include work furloughs, permitting inmates to go to work each day and return to the facility at night. In one case highlighted in the Marshall Project/Times report, a former Los Angeles police officer convicted for stalking his ex-wife worked as a security guard and fitness trainer throughout his one-year incarceration. He didn’t inform his employers, who told researchers “they did not know [he] was serving jail time and that they believed he forged letters from them to secure a judge’s permission to leave jail.” The price for the privilege of coming and going so freely? A daily cost of $120.
Come to think of it, this is somewhere in a realm beyond disgusting. This takes all of the brutality and indignity visited on poor people and all of the lack of accountability offered to rich people and mashes them onto mass incarceration and the system we really need a better word for than “justice.” It may not be everything bad about America in one place, but it’s working hard to get there.