County lockup can be a scary place, even for convicted criminals.
So, for a select number of nonviolent, first-time or short-term convicted criminals – people who might be vulnerable in general jail population – a few city jails in Orange County include cells that offer a bit of protection.
For a fee.
At prices that start north of $100 a night, some inmates can stay in as many as 16 special cells set up in Huntington Beach, Seal Beach, Fullerton and Anaheim. Some stay one day; some stay a few years.
“We cater to good people who make bad choices,” Seal Beach Detention Center Sgt. Steve Bowles said.
But lately, fewer people seem to qualify.
California, as part of recently passed Proposition 47, has reclassified many crimes that used to result in jail time and expanded alternative sentencing options. As a result, fewer convicts in Orange County are paying to stay in facilities that – as jails go – are cushy.
“People aren’t getting convicted like they used to,” said Anaheim police Correctional Lt. Loren Higgins.
“But this is still a viable option.”
JUSTICE FOR SOME
Civil libertarians aren’t thrilled.
The American Civil Liberties Union has described pay-to-stay incarceration as “jail for the rich,” pointing out how a system that separates the treatment of criminals based on wealth is fundamentally un-American.
Proponents point out that money is just one factor, and not every criminal qualifies for pay-to-stay. An inmate must apply and submit to an interview. Then, both a judge and a jail administrator must approve the inmate’s request.
Criminal applicants with a history of violence are usually – but not always – turned away. Administrators in all four pay-to-stay O.C. cities said they approve each application on a case-by-case basis.
“We’ll look into it,” said Anaheim Correctional Supervisor Sgt. Rhonda Bruns. “There’s always a story behind what happened.”
Fullerton Police Sgt. Dan Castillo said although he also looks at applications on a case-by-case basis, he’ll reject criminals with a history of violence against officers.
“I don’t want to risk my personnel for someone who is anti-cop or violent in general,” Castillo said.
Bowles, of Seal Beach, said: “We traditionally do not accept violent offenders. But we have had some (applicants) with sensitive needs, such as age (or previous work as) police informants; people who have issues that would make them unsafe or less suitable for county jail.“
Most of the inmates are serving jail time for some version of driving under the influence. A second DUI conviction can earn a jail sentence of between 30 and 60 days; a third can bring up to a year.
Pay-to-stay inmates do not have to reside in the city, or even the county where they’re serving time.
Castillo and Miller both said they’ve seen an increase of cases from courts in Arizona counties, including Orange County residents who ran afoul of the law in spots like Lake Havasu but wish to serve their sentences near home.
“Boating under the influence is a very popular offense we see from Arizona,” said Dale Miller, the Huntington Beach detention administrator.
Serving time in pay-to-stay jails often isn’t a full-time situation. Most inmates spend weekdays at work, part of furlough programs outlined by their sentencing judge. Working inmates from Huntington Beach and Seal Beach are monitored by GPS devices and must pay $10 and $20 extra a day, respectively.
“Part of the rehabilitation process is continuing to work to support your family and your future,” Bowles said.
The pay-to-stay jail world is – like the general jail population – male-dominated.
Both Huntington Beach and Anaheim accept women, but the numbers are small, and men outnumber women considerably. Anaheim is still experimenting with female housing in pay-to-stay and currently can’t accept more than two at a time.
COSTS AND PERKS
A year in the pay-to-stay cells of Huntington Beach and Seal Beach would run $36,550, or $150 for the first day and $100 for each day after. Fullerton charges a flat rate of $127 per day.
But inmates get what they pay for.
In addition to the safety that comes with serving time in a smaller pool of convicts who have been prescreened for violent tendencies, the jails offer a variety of diversions. Depending on which city they’re in, pay-to-stay convicts can read an array of donated books, watch satellite TV or DVDs on portable screens, smoke, shop in a well-stocked commissary or practice yoga.
“They invest in being here,” Bowles said. “And we invest in rehabilitating them.
“The best thing in a detention facility is for people to be in a good state of mind and manageable,” he added.
Entertainment options are different for county inmates. They can watch TV, but it’s controlled by deputies, and channels are changed on a per-request basis.
Also, while visiting hours for pay-to-stay convicts vary per individual, some convicts can see visitors daily, or even have contact visits, meaning they can play basketball with their kids.
Inmates at county can see visitors on weekends.
But even pay-to-stay isn’t completely pay-to-stay; a few inmates who are approved for extended stays in city jails but can’t afford the fee are accepted anyway.
Anaheim does not charge inmates serving more than 30 days who do not participate in the work- release program. In lieu of paying, the extended-stay inmates are required to clean the jail and do chores including laundry, something that’s also expected of long-term inmates at Seal Beach.
However, if a convict has a sentence of fewer than 30 days or leaves for work, the $100 daily fee applies.
Going forward, administrators expect to see more pay-to-stay, not less.
“Now that criminals may be sentenced to three years in county jail, we’re preparing for much longer terms,” said Higgins, of Anaheim.
That also brings extra income to the cities’ general funds or jail programs.
“Under the right circumstances, that the court feels that Seal Beach will be the best location, we would definitely offer multiple-year stays,” Bowles said.
Seal Beach already has housed the longest pay-to-stay jail inmate. He stayed two years for a felony DUI offense and was released in December.
“What we try to do is focus on the rehabilitation of our inmates,” Bowles said.
“And I expect (the county) will focus more on the mission of providing alternative sentencing opportunities.”
Contact the writer: 714-796-7802 or [email protected]
SOurce: Orange County Register
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