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PLN cover story on celebrity justice profiled in article

KALW News, Jan. 1, 2010.
PLN cover story on celebrity justice profiled in article - KALW News 2010

High-end jail cells and more perks of wealth in the justice system

September 17, 2010 | 6:27 PM | By Rina Palta

KALW News / The Informant

An article in the magazine Prison Legal News delves into how people of different economic status experience the criminal justice system. Among the strangest examples, "pay to stay" jails in Southern California:

"For over a decade suburban jails in Southern California have been renting upscale cells to affluent people convicted of crimes in Los Angeles County. These pay-to-stay programs, also called self-pay jails, cost wealthy prisoners between $45 and $175 a day and include such amenities as iPods, cell phones, computers, private cells and work release programs. Some even let prisoners (who are referred to as ‘clients’) bring in their own food."

Like this one in Huntington beach, which charges $125 for the first day and $75 per day after and allows some of those who work or go to school to "check out" for the day. And this one in Beverly Hills where Jail Supervisor Randy Neitzke told a reporter from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, "You get a lot of those people who go to Saks Fifth Avenue, see something they like for a thousand dollars or so, and walk out of the store with it without bothering to pay." It’s a great situation for clientele who worry about their comfort and safety in the regular county jail, Neitzke told the reporter. "I was a deputy Sheriff for 10 years and I’ve seen the conditions with rats running across your toes, big spiders that don’t have names yet, and not to mention the clientele that are in those county jails. This will make the choice of a Pay to Stay jail program the best choice ever."

But, says Prison Legal News, this opportunity for superior housing isn’t the only convenience inaccessible to much “clientele” in the regular old jails. The article says that those without fame or money:

* Often can’t make bail and wait out their trials in jail. (There are about half a million inmates in US jails waiting to be tried who can’t or won’t pay bail.)

* Can’t afford private defense attorneys. (Though a recent study showed that in many areas, public defenders do just as well in court.)

* Aren’t often offered house arrest pending trial, as some high-profile and wealthier folks have been over the years. (Like Bernie Madoff.)

* Are often arrested on the street or in their homes, whereas rich folks are sometimes allowed to turn themselves in, accompanied by their lawyers.

But incarceration itself, the piece argues, is supposed to be a great equalizer – if there are disparities in how cruddy your living situation is, it should be by offense, not whether you can afford to pay for better. It should be noted that those eligible for these pay-to-stay programs are serving time for misdemeanors. Jail officials argue that the programs are a source of revenue and certain guests have to be isolated because of their celebrity or high-profile status. Fair or not, one can’t help wonder: if those of different economic (and celebrity) statuses experienced justice the same way, might that provide political will to improve the criminal justice system for all?



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