We all know that money makes a difference in the justice system: Affluent defendants get better treatment and can afford better representation.
But in yet another demonstration of our two-tiered system, California now hosts a network of small, private jails, allowing people to pay upwards of $251 per night for a safer, more comfortable place to serve their time.
Alan Wurtzel met Carole Markin on Match.com in 2010. On their first date, he took her to coffee. After their second date, he walked Markin to her door, followed her inside and, she said, forced her to perform oral sex.
Wurtzel later claimed the act was consensual, but in 2011 he pleaded no contest to sexual battery and was sentenced to a year in jail. Markin was disappointed in the short sentence, but she still believed a measure of justice would be served with her assailant locked behind bars at the Los Angeles County Jail.
Instead, Wurtzel, who also had been convicted of sexual battery in a previous case, found a better option: For $100 a night, he was permitted by the court to avoid county jail entirely. He did his time in Seal Beach’s small city jail, with amenities that included flat-screen TVs, a computer room and new beds. He served six months, at a cost of $18,250, according to jail records.
Markin learned about Wurtzel’s upgraded jail stay only recently, from a reporter. “I feel like, ‘Why did I go through this?’” she said.
People are now actively price-shopping to decide where they can serve their time, with some jails even allowing people to serve in half-day increments and even cancel if it’s inconvenient:
Prices vary widely, with each city setting its own rate. Defendants can get a bargain-basement bed in La Verne for $25 a night or pay a modest $75 a night in Hawthorne. Or they can splurge, paying $198 a night in Redondo Beach or $251 a night in Hermosa Beach. Monterey Park even offers the option of serving time in half-day increments, for $51. “We just basically let them book their time,” said D.J. Casey, the lead records clerk for Monterey Park’s Police Department. “Sometimes they call and cancel and say, ‘My kid’s sick.’”
While the option isn’t available to all who have been convicted (serious felonies like murders aren’t eligible for example), the fact that this option exists at all is baffling.