Sat, Jun 11, 2005 - Page 16 News List

If convicted, Jackson will face tough new digs

Not quite Neverland, the high-security Corcoran Prison has cells that measure 2.5m by 4m and feature concrete beds

DPA , SANTA MARIA

A supporter of Michael Jackson stands outside the California courthouse where his trial is being held.

PHOTO: EPA

If Michael Jackson is found guilty of child molestation and sent to jail, he will experience a shocking change in his living conditions.

The self-styled "King of Pop" would go from the strange and extravagant palace that is his Neverland Ranch to the high security Corcoran Prison, where inmates are kept isolated in spartan conditions for years on end.

Jackson bought his fantasy ranch for US$17 million in 1988. Its previous owner, golf course developer William Bone, had built the elaborate structure to resemble a baroque country club, with two lakes, waterfalls, a treasure trove of antiques and a generously stocked wine cellar.

Jackson added a zoo and amusement park rides, and named the estate Neverland, after author JM Barrie's fictional creation where children never have to grow up.

Jackson placed Peter Pan statues all over the expansive grounds, added an 80-seat private theater to the 1,300㎡ residence and began inviting groups of children to visit the extravagant retreat that covers 10,500 hectares.

Prosecutors described his two-story bedroom as a fortress -- complete with an alarm that rings if anyone approaches. The property also boasts a library with 1 million volumes, and rooms that are virtual shrines to movie stars like Shirley Temple.

"My fondest memory here," Jackson told Life magazine in 1993, "was one night we had a houseful of bald-headed children. They all had cancer. And one little boy turned to me and said, `This is the best day of my life.' You had to just hold back the tears."

According to the Los Angeles Times, as many as 160 staff members are on the Neverland payroll, while the annual cost of running Neverland and providing security is US$5 million. If Jackson is forced to sell the property, Neverland would fetch between US$50 to US$100 million, according to reports.

The opulence is in stark contrast to the jail conditions that Jackson would face if convicted. Jackson's initial incarceration would be at the Santa Barbara County jail, but he would soon be transferred to Corcoran State Prison, set in cotton fields about 80km south of Fresno in the blazing-hot San Joaquin Valley.

Jackson would be housed there in the Protective Housing Unit, sharing digs with other high-profile prisoners -- like mass murderer Charles Manson -- whose notoriety puts them at risk.

The 20 inmates currently housed in the unit are free to roam and eat inside a large day room with metal tables and chairs. Their cells are approximately the same size as those for the general population, about 2.5m wide by 4m long.

They feature concrete beds, a sink, desk and toilet -- and Jackson may have to share it with another inmate. Inmates there wear standard prison attire: denim jeans, blue shirt and brown boots. Inmates also are provided with white T-shirts, white boxer shorts and a denim jacket.

Televisions and radios are permitted if inmates can afford them; prisoners can shower once a day, and are entitled to visits on Saturday and Sunday from 8am to 1:30pm.

They have access to a law library, can have books sent to them as long as they contain no nudity or profanity, and can receive newspapers "as long as it does not violate the safety of the inmate or the institution".

The daily schedule starts with wake-up at 6am. Breakfast is served from 6:30am to 7am and inmates are given bagged lunches that they can eat whenever they choose. Dinner is served from 4:30pm to 5:30pm. Inmates must be back in their cells by 8:45pm, but can leave their lights on as late as they like.

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