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Pay to Stay, If You Can

By Megan Kinneyn | Sep. 2, 2007

Law Office Management

Sep. 2, 2007

Pay to Stay, If You Can

Nonviolent offenders with spare cash can report to the office each day—or use a computer in their cell—at popular pay-to-stay prisons. By Peter Blumberg

By Peter Blumberg
      Edited by Jeanette Borzo
      Inmates are lining up to room with a better class of criminal. So popular is the Santa Ana city jail that there's a waiting list of criminals willing to pay $82 a night to stay there. And, officials say, there won't be any vacancies until sometime in 2008.
      "We get 30 to 40 calls a week,' says Christina Holland, support-services manager for the jail. "I have people from all over the state who want to get in."
      Pay-to-stay jails first sprang up in California more than a decade ago, partly as a way for cash-strapped municipalities with empty police-station cells to raise revenue. The accommodations don't include a view or fluffier pillows, but they do promise an upgrade in safety and flexibility: Nonviolent offenders can leave on work furloughs during the day and return to spend evenings away from the more menacing prisoners who often inhabit crowded county jails.
      Drunk drivers, car thieves, embezzlers?these are the sorts of folks who enroll for anywhere from $75 to $125 per night. But first they need to pass a medical exam and get permission from a judge. Drug dealers, sex offenders, the seriously ill, or anyone else labeled "high risk" need not apply.
      Fame doesn't help either. "For the most part if they are very high-profile, we won't take them," adds Holland. "We'd end up with media camped out on the front porch."
      An administrator who supervises jail inspections statewide estimates that about 30 jails offer pay-to-stay beds. Each program operates under its own rules, with some allowing inmates to keep puzzles, games, and iPods. Others permit mobile phones and outside food delivery. Most require inmates to share cells and do daily cleanup chores.
      "A safe and secure alternative to county jail" is the promotion Correctional Systems Inc., a company that manages the city jails in Alhambra and Montebello, uses for its pay-to-stay programs. "A big misconception is that pay-to-stay programs are only for the extremely wealthy," says Christine Parker, until recently a company spokesperson. "Our typical clients are people who have jobs they need to keep." People even take out loans and second mortgages to pay to stay, says a Pasadena Police Department spokesperson.
      Some criminal defense attorneys routinely try to get their clients into these programs. "For many people, it's the best option in a bad situation," says John D. Barnett, a sole practitioner in Orange. "I do it all the time."
      But occasionally there's controversy. In March, for example, the Orange County DA's office objected to the plans of George Jaramillo, a former assistant sheriff sentenced for corruption, to pay to stay at the Fullerton city jail, where he might have had access to a computer. Eventually, Jaramillo went to the Montebello city jail, which doesn't offer such privileges.
      His lawyer, in fact, wasn't interested in high-tech perks for his client. Robert Corrado, also a sole practitioner in Orange, just didn't want the ex-lawman murdered in jail. Corrado says he seeks out pay-to-stay programs only for clients who would be exceptionally vulnerable if locked up in the county jail.
      L.A. County Jail statistics suggest the risk is real: In 2006 it reported 636 assaults among 4,510 inmates.
      Still, Corrado says he uses the programs sparingly: "My fear is that if it's used too much, one day it will not be there."

Megan Kinneyn

Daily Journal Staff Writer

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