Want a Jail Cell Upgrade? That’ll Be $155 a Night

Well-heeled prisoners in California's Alameda County now have the option of staying in a nicer detention center. Critics say the revenue-generating scheme is discriminatory

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The Santa Rita Jail is home to around 4,000 inmates, but those willing to open their wallets for the Fremont "pay-to-stay" program don't have to join them.

A detention center in Fremont, California is the most recent jail in the state to let inmates pay to stay in a newer, less-crowded facility than the regular county jail. For $155 per night — about the cost of a three-star hotel — both men and women convicted of misdemeanors can bunk in a special area of the Fremont Detention Center instead. While the new lodging option was intended to boost revenue and reduce overcrowding in county jails nearby, critics say the “alternative confinement program” is really just a jail for the rich.

With shared showers, foam mattresses, and few amenities other than high-definition television sets, the jail is no hotel. But for those looking to avoid a stay in the larger Glenn E. Dyer Detention Facility in Oakland or the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin — which houses 4000 inmates, many of whom have gang affiliations — it might seem like one. Convicts can only stay at the Fremont facility, which was built in 2002 and has a maximum capacity of 96 prisoners, if they have no criminal gang connections, no history of violence and haven’t been convicted of a sex crime.

“This place is for a person who has committed a petty theft or a DUI,” Lieutenant Mark Devine, who oversees the new program, told the Argus. “It’s for people who need to serve one or five, or maybe 10 days in jail.”

The “pay-to-stay” program is an attempt to curb the spiraling costs of the state penitentiary system. An estimated 119,000 people are incarcerated in California’s notoriously overcrowded jails, which are currently 150% overcapacity. If 16 prisoners spent two nights per week in the facility, the city could earn a tidy $124,000 in revenue each year, according to city estimates. “There is a cost to government. And that cost, where appropriate, should be borne by the people using the program or facility,” Devine told a local TV station.

Critics contend that the program creates a two-tiered justice system that favors the wealthy. “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,” Carl Takei, an American Civil Liberties Union official, told the Argus.

Though the pay-to-stay concept isn’t new, this prison will be the first of its kind in the Bay Area. As noted in a staff report issued by the city of Fremont on the new program, “there are approximately 15 Pay-to-Stay programs in Southern California, and the daily charge ranges from $85.00 to $255.00 per day.”

MORE: California Corrections: How a State Picks Thousands of Inmates to Take Out of Prison