Pay-to-stay detention facilities are increasing in Southern California, and for deep-pocketed offenders, they are paradise. These facilities show that Southern California operates a two-tiered system of jails, where those with more cash flow can ride out their time behind bars in relative comfort while others are subjected to degrading living conditions.
“This is like paradise,” an Orange County man named Jack told the LA Times, speaking of his US$100-a-night stay at Seal Beach’s pay-to-stay jail, where he served his 90-day sentence for driving under the influence of heroin.
Jack previously spent 17 days in an Orange County jail that was overcrowded, dirty and dangerous – emblematic of most county jails in the region. He was then able to get his defense attorney to transfer his case to a different judge, who allowed him to pay for a more comfortable jail for the remainder of his sentence.
Paying a total of US$7,300 at Seal Beach, Jack finds a large selection of DVDs and books and an endless supply of hot water. Plus, he’s treated like a human being, he told the LA Times.
There are about 26 “pay-to-stay” or “private jails” in Los Angeles and Orange counties. A report by the Marshall Project and the LA Times found that of the more than 3,500 people who served time in the region’s pay-to-stay programs between 2011 and 2015, more than 160 had been convicted of serious crimes including assault, robbery, domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography.
The jail’s administrators tout that they’re a “valuable alternative” to those that would be “vulnerable” in county jail, such as sex offenders, celebrities and very young or old inmates.
Last June, Seal Beach took in US $365,000 from its inmates, close to half of the jail’s total budget of US$766,662. The facility advertises in local papers with spreads asking, “Why spend your jail sentence of 365 days or less at county?”
It was the choice jail for Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, who was sentenced to 90 days in 2015 for physically assaulting his wife, who after the attack was covered in blood with a gash above her eye that required eight stitches.
“I’m really happy I was able to come here,” he had said at the time. “But you need the money to do it.”
In contrast, a report released Wednesday details the conditions of an ICE detention facility, which indicates the vastly different experience immigrants face while in detention.
The report, by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, found several health risks, poor conditions and safety violations at Theo Lacy Facility (TLF) in Orange, California, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility.
"Of deepest concern" was the refrigeration units which were observed to have "slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat that appeared to be spoiled," the report said, according to ABC News.
"Detainees reported being repeatedly served lunch meat that smelled and tasted bad, which they rinsed with water before eating," it detailed.
It also found moldy shower stalls, feces in cells and phones that didn’t work.
The report recommended that ICE ensure the facility follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s safe food handling guidelines, as well as undertake a full review and inspection of the facility.