Paying your dues to society takes on a whole new meaning in California. For US$171 a day, prisoners can get cell upgrades that offer access to iPods, laptops, mobiles, better food and, the biggest selling point of all, isolation from violent inmates.
One police department makes this fear of sexual predators its main sales pitch: "Bad things happen to good people."
In the pay-to-stay scheme, the cells are bare but cleaner than the communal ones and inmates are allowed to take in personal possessions denied non-paying prisoners. Payments have to be made in advance for short stays but those serving longer sentences can pay in installments.
The offer is available only to those facing what the justice system classifies as minor offenses, such as drink driving. Violent offenders are automatically ruled out. The cost of upgrades varies from county to county: ranging from US$70 a day -- though there is an initial US$100 application fee -- in Seal Beach to US$171 a day in Torrance.
Details of the scheme on the Torrance police department Web site are not dissimilar from many hotel brochures, with details ranging parking facilities to check-out times.
"We compute sentences on a 24-hour basis. If you have three days to serve, check-in would be 8:30am Monday, check-out 8:30am Thursday," it said.
Applications to take part in the scheme can be made online. Unlike hotel guests, inmates are required by law to work a minimum of four hours a day.
"You will assist with chores such as cleaning, laundry, trash removal and vehicle washing," it said.
Police say paying prisoners "are housed separately from all other inmates, but may have minimal contact with the regular inmate population during meal service."
The low profile scheme, which began several years ago, has received publicity in recent weeks after prosecutors objected to George Jaramillo, a former assistant sheriff sentenced for misuse of public funds, being allowed to benefit from it. They were furious to read that he would be able to enjoy meals on a patio with his family with food brought in from restaurants.