If you have the money, authorities in Southern California will allow offenders to coast through prison in softer accommodations.
A groundbreaking investigation by the Los Angeles Times revealed that for roughly the nightly cost of a hotel room, offenders can avoid the Los Angeles County jail entirely and do their time in what the paper calls a “pay-to-stay” small city jail with upgraded amenities.
Reporters documented the case of Alan Wurtzel — a convicted rapist — who paid $100 a night to do six months in the Seal Beach city jail, where he rested his head on a new bed and enjoyed flat-screen TVs and a computer room. The total cost to Wurtzel for the six-month sentence was $18,250. However, Wurtzel is just one of many who are using their comfortable financial means to skirt hard time.
There are 26 facilities in Los Angeles and Orange counties that are part of the “pay-to-stay” program, which housed roughly 3,500 paying customers between 2011 and 2015, according to data acquired by the Times and the Marshall Project. These jails took in close to $7 million in revenue as a result of pay-to-stay.
Approximately 160 of those inmates were convicted of serious crimes, including possession of child pornography, sexual assault, sexual abuse against minors, robbery, assault, battery, and domestic violence. One former inmate who paid for deluxe accommodations in prison was an LAPD officer who stalked and threatened his ex-wife:
To contrast, inmates without the financial resources to escape the harsh realities of prison life are subjected to brutal conditions in Los Angeles County jails like the Men’s Central jail, which Mother Jones ranked as one of America’s ten worst prisons in 2013. The ACLU reported in 2011 that a “savage gang of deputies” routinely beats and tortures inmates at Men’s Central with no repercussions.
Prison chaplain Paulino Juarez described one such attack to the ACLU in the below video:
The Times’ research found around 200 city jail beds for rent in Los Angeles and Orange counties, where inmates who want to avoid harder time in conventional prison can pay for a softer sentence.
Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.