in case you ever doubted that prison is an industry

From the New York Times, via futurebird on the debunkingwhite Livejournal community: California inmates who meet certain requirements and can fork over a significant amount of dough get to have a cushier stay in prison than their less wealthy fellow inmates:

For roughly $75 to $127 a day, these convicts — who are known in the self-pay parlance as “clients” — get a small cell behind a regular door, distance of some amplitude from violent offenders and, in some cases, the right to bring an iPod or computer on which to compose a novel, or perhaps a song.

Unbelievable, right? Well, not so unbelievable, considering that our entire capitalist society constantly reinforces the notion that, the more money you have, the more worth you have as a person, and the better you deserve to be treated. And hopefully, though unfortunately, we’ve all been disabused of the silly fantasy that the justice is blind, that the justice system in this country is equitable and applies the law fairly and evenly across lines of race and class.

And yet somehow, I still managed to be a little shocked by this. I figure, if you’re a person with racial or economic privilege who still manages to be convicted of a crime (even if it’s a lesser crime than another person with less privilege may have been convicted of), and you actually get sentenced to time in prison (again, even if said sentence is lighter), and even still if you get some preferential treatment from prison authorities, you’re still going to be serving your sentence in basically the same facilities, with basically the same privileges and lack thereof.

Silly me to forget there’s always a way to make sure that the richer and otherwise more privileged are more comfortable and are treated more humanely than everyone else.

Some particularly infuriating passages (emphasis mine):

Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world. You have to be in the know to even apply for entry, and even if the court approves your sentence there, jail administrators can operate like bouncers, rejecting anyone they wish.

Wealth and privilege aren’t limited to money; they also extend to knowledge and access to information. Many people are denied all sorts of rights to which they are fully and lawfully entitled because they just don’t know about them. Information is either never offered or made so inaccessible that those rights may as well not exist at all.

Many of the overnighters are granted work furlough, enabling them to do most of their time on the job, returning to the jail simply to go to bed (often following a strip search, which granted is not so five-star).

To me, this was one of the most galling aspects of the pay-to-stay privilege. For most people, the damaging effects of prison sentences extend far beyond the length of the stay. Even a relatively short stay can put a person’s job in jeopardy; do you think that most hourly-wage workers will come back from a few weeks or months in jail to find their old job waiting for them? Hell no; and then, of course, follows the difficulty of finding another job and the financial troubles caused by lost wages. But with the work furlough privilege, you can not only retain your job, but you can continue to make money right through your term.

Only one of the people quoted even comes close to getting at the all too evident problems with this situation:

While jails in other states may offer pay-to-stay programs, numerous jail experts said they did not know of any.

“I have never run into this,” said Ken Kerle, managing editor of the publication American Jail Association and author of two books on jails. “But the rest of the country doesn’t have Hollywood either. Most of the people who go to jail are economically disadvantaged, often mentally ill, with alcohol and drug problems and are functionally illiterate. They don’t have $80 a day for jail.”

Most of the other people quoted simply highlight how racist, classist, and generally fucked up this is.

“The benefits are that you are isolated and you don’t have to expose yourself to the traditional county system,” said Christine Parker, a spokeswoman for CSI, a national provider of jails that runs three in Orange County with pay-to-stay programs.

Since when does a person convicted of a crime that requires jail time have such latitude of choice when it comes to what they “expose” themselves to? Not that I’m any fan of the prison industrial complex, but doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole frakking purpose of prison?

Parker continues, going on to say what is perhaps the most outrageously honest thing in this entire article:

“You can avoid gang issues. You are restricted in terms of the number of people you are encountering and they are a similar persuasion such as you.”

Hmm… can anyone guess the sort of things she might be talking about when she says “persuasion?”

When talking about how the Pasadena Police Department tried to “create a little buzz” (!) for the program in the 1990s, a department representative says,

“Our sales pitch at the time was, ‘Bad things happen to good people… People might have brothers, sisters, cousins, etc., who might have had a lapse in judgment and do not want to go to county jail.

Right. Because poor people who commit crimes are criminals, and rich people who commit crimes are good people who had a lapse in judgment.

The article’s conclusion seems to assert that the “five-star jails” still suck. Kinda.

Still, no doubt about it, the self-pay jails are not to be confused with Canyon Ranch… Lockdown can occur for hours at a time, and just feet away other prisoners sit with their faces pressed against cell windows, looking menacing.

Because POOR PEOPLE ARE SCARY! Even when all they can do is scowl at you through a window because your money gets you better treatment and privileges than they have.

Ms. Brockett, who normally works as a bartender in Los Angeles, said the experience was one she never cared to repeat.

“It does look decent,” she said, “but you still feel exactly where you are.”

Yeah – in a watered-down version of jail that you get to stay in because of your most likely unearned privilege. We feel for you, really.

6 Responses to “in case you ever doubted that prison is an industry”

  1. 1 Fire Fly


    But given that prison labour is already being used to manufacture goods and services, this is hardly surprising… Merits an analysis of the place of prisons in the capitalist system & the various vectors of oppression that pass through the prison system.

  2. 2 myles

    ditto on the “ugh” from fire fly. and also, i love that you worked “frakking” into this post. !!!

  3. 3 Ellen

    How disturbing! The criminal injustice system is such a crock.

  4. 4 am i a body fascist?

    here via anti-essentialist. thanx for highlighting that!

    late in the nineties got that creepy feeling the official motto was ‘back to the fifties’. some years later, felt we aready been there and now it’s ‘straight back to the middle ages’, servs n nobiles n all. looks like we’re making progress …

    btw here in shitserland work furlough for pay (but only if you’ve got a 9-5 full time job, and e.g. short sentences only) is widespread, on the official grounds of ‘rehabilitation’ plus of course they like the money as well. though the other priviledges mentioned like protection from violent inmates or additional gadgets probly not (though the former is also less an issue than in the states). as far as i know it’s mostly people sentenced for drunk driving too. but at the mo there’s not yet this private jail industry (though gov jails also not too bad at slave labour), but they’re trying it again and again.

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