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January 7, 2014

"Should We Let Prisoners Upgrade Their Prison Cells?"

9515_luxury_prison_by_iMoo_pupuDesign-1The title of this post is the headline of this interesting report from the OZY media resource. Here are excerpts:

Would prison be so bad if your cell was spacious and included a private bathroom, kitchen and cable TV? These are the accommodations for some prisoners at San Pedro prison in La Paz, Bolivia. But luxury isn’t free: For about $1,000-1,500, an inmate can purchase a high-class cell for the duration of his or her sentence.

San Pedro is divided into eight sections ranging from shared small cells with risks of stabbings at night to the opulent cells that have access to billiard tables and fresh juice stands. Every person must buy or rent a cell, no matter the quality, and many inmates have jobs as hairdressers, laundry staff, food stall operators or TV repairmen.

Does the idea of paying for better prison accommodations sound ludicrous? Would you bet this could never happen in the U.S.? Think again.

In California there are multiple jails with “pay-to-stay” programs where inmates can pay from $75-155 a day for a private cell in quiet areas away from violent offenders, and they are occasionally allowed to bring in an iPod or computer for entertainment. They must be approved for the program and their crimes are usually minor offenses. The ACLU is not a fan, calling the program a “jail for the rich.”

Supporters of pay-to-stay say they benefit the cities where they are located by providing revenue. For example, if the Fremont jail — which spends $8.35 a day on each inmate — houses 16 inmates for two nights per week a year, the city would net a profit of about $244,000. One immediate question is whether cities should make a profit off of prisoners. Another question has to do with equality.

Two people who commit the same crime but end up in different facilities depending on their ability to pay isn’t exactly equitable, but the American incarceration system doesn’t have the best record when it comes to treating the poor and rich equally....

But what if you weren’t allowed to use Daddy’s dollars to secure better living conditions while serving time for a DUI? What if, instead, you started out the same as every other inmate, regardless of personal wealth or outside resources?

Could a fairer option be that you start your sentence with a financial blank slate, earn money by taking jobs inside the prison or jail and then apply your self-earned dollars to book a nicer and more comfortable living situation? Should prisoners be allowed to pay to upgrade the quality of their cells, or should the nature of their crime be the sole factor in how they live out their prison terms?

January 7, 2014 at 02:04 PM | Permalink


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Look, prisons are just facilities where certain kinds of correction programs are operated. What counts is the program, not the place where that program is carried out. Start with the program and then look for a place to run it. The tail should not wag the dog.

Here is how it should work. First make a plan for each offender. That plan should touch those aspects of an offenders life-space that contribute to that persons criminality. Then match the components of that plan with the components of an existing correction program as closely as possible. Correction plans are life-space plans, they are not places.

Posted by: Tom McGee | Jan 7, 2014 3:29:00 PM

Interesting article. Thank you. We have 2 million people caged in America. Wealthy people should not receive better treatment. What this country should be doing is demanding better treatment, facilities and education for all. Unfortunately our prison system is gang run, overpopulated, uneducated. The system is corrupt and really reflects our society as a whole. Designer cells don't solve the problem. Job training workshops, mental health treatment and the emotional healing of hundreds of thousands of repeat clients. Many who have been in the terrible juvenile prison system and who have no healthy family or support team to go to once they are released. There needs to be more money for halfway houses that are safe and nurturing and not drug infested - so newly released inmates have some structure and stability upon release. Poor people stand no chance once they are damaged from our society and prison system. Gross that the wealthy can be treated differently with designer cells. Selfish idea all round and definitely a concept that was thought up by a team of graduate fools who have never experienced the system first hand. People trying to make a creative designer quick buck off the monster incarceration system this so called democratic country of ours has created.

Posted by: inkarcerate | Jan 8, 2014 10:20:40 AM

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