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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Banana Republic Watch

posted by on April 28 at 11:09 AM

We now have a two-tiered prison system.

For roughly $75 to $127 a day, these convicts—who are known in the self-pay parlance as “clients”—get a small cell behind a regular door, distance of some amplitude from violent offenders and, in some cases, the right to bring an iPod or computer on which to compose a novel, or perhaps a song…. The clients usually share a cell, but otherwise mix little with the ordinary nonpaying inmates…

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Weird. But it is a practical way to pay for our prisons and some would argue that it's better to have rich convicts pay their own way than have taxpayers pay for them.

Posted by lorax | April 28, 2007 11:40 AM

What is the function of the prison then? Is punishment negated?

Posted by kdge | April 28, 2007 12:01 PM

They are still stuck there, they can't work, they can't see their loved ones, and they pay a shit-ton of money from the privilege of not living in the godforsaken California prison system. They're still being punished, admittedly not as much as a poor person would be, but at least they're less of a drag on the rest of California. It's not as if they're paying to get out of jail entirely.

Posted by lorax | April 28, 2007 12:09 PM

Wow, it was always clear that poor people were screwed by the legal system, but this is just so blatant.

Posted by mrobvious | April 28, 2007 1:37 PM

Lorax -- did you read the article? They often do go to work; they just go back to "jail" to sleep. They not only can see loved ones, loved ones can "bring them hot meals". The total cost is between $30K and $45K/year (or a fraction of that for short sentences), which is only a "shit-ton of money" to the working poor and lower middle-class.

If "some people" think it's better for the rich to save the taxpayer the burden of incarcerating them, the solution is in ending mandatory minimums and defanging the prison lobby, not a two-tiered penal system allowing the wealthy to skate.

What's next, charter prisons?

Posted by Nat | April 28, 2007 1:53 PM

"Charter" prisons already exist. Much of the industry is already for profit. Small towns love them because they bring in construction money and permanent jobs. So now we have another significant lobby to support the War on Drugs.

Posted by dirge | April 28, 2007 2:46 PM

At least its better(since they are paying for themselves) than the programs that give those priviledges to prisoners who join evangelical Christian groups, paid for by the federal faith based initiatives. The NYTimes exposed those a couple of months ago.
But it does bring us closer to Mexican and Central American prisons where the family must provide food and other necessities for any prisoner.(Of course there are very unpleasant ways to survive if your mother doesn't come every day with your food.)

Posted by Anna | April 28, 2007 4:21 PM

Why aren't they using those special privileges as a way of rewarding inmates for good behavior? Offering humane treatment as a reward seems like a very good way to ensure control of the prison population, but I guess they'd rather use humiliation and borderline torture.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 28, 2007 4:36 PM

It wasn't a reward for good behavior, it was a reward for going to Bible class. Well behaved prisoners who chose literacy classes or the Koran did not receive equal treatment.

NYTimes, 12/10/06: Religion for Captive Audiences, With Taxpayers Footing the Bill

I don't think prisons should be Club Med, but there should be basic safety and human dignity for all prisoners, not just those with a Bible, a shiv, or someone paying the bill from the outside.

Posted by Anna | April 28, 2007 7:31 PM

Also like most of the "faith based initiatives", these programs are boondoggles to funnel money to Christian organizations that spend more energy promoting the Republican Party, than the messages of Jesus.

Posted by anna | April 28, 2007 7:34 PM


I was actually talking about the special privileges that are up for sale, not those handed out to inmates who take Bible class. It seems like they could use the promise of your own cell as a reward program for prisoners who behave themselves, rather than using it to effectively reward wealthy inmates.

Posted by keshmeshi | April 28, 2007 8:25 PM

It used to be there was this veneer of equality, so you could kind of squint your eyes and pretend that everyone got treated fairly. Of course we all knew that the better lawyer you could afford the more likely you were going to go free, or get a much lighter sentence than those poor slobs (sarcasm) who had to make do with second rate lawyers or (shudder) god forbid, public defenders. And of course we knew that so called 'white collar' criminals frequently went to prisons that were virtually country clubs that you just couldn't leave. I never understood why stealing thousands of peoples retirement money so that they are totally bereft, some having to work until their deaths instead of ever retiring, gets punished by being sent to a country club.

I suppose this is just another example of removing even the semblance of equality in America and instead reinforcing privledge while bilking a little cash out of people. Expect it to spread like wildfire across this, the land of the free.
Especially since it is being couched in terms of saving money, a pox of Eyman's is on this land.

I shudder to even to begin to contemplate what this will do to people who can barely afford to pay for this, much less the lengths their families will go to on the outside to come up with the funds to keep their incarcerated family members safe.

It's brilliant really, it will force their family members to commit crimes to attempt to come up with the funds to keep them from being raped, and inevitably those family members will be caught and the state can bilk them out of the protection money too. This will further fuel the growth industry that prisons are in the US.

Posted by K X One | April 28, 2007 8:43 PM

i hope paris hilton isn't afforded this option.

Posted by whide | April 28, 2007 8:57 PM

Um, haven't we HAD a two-tiered system for some time now? I mean, there is minimum security prison for white-collar criminals, and has been for decades.

On the other hand, isn't this the sort of thing Charles Dickens-era people fought against and got outlawed on the grounds it bred extra corruption into the system?

Posted by Kat | April 28, 2007 10:47 PM

"Um, haven't we HAD a two-tiered system for some time now? I mean, there is minimum security prison for white-collar criminals, and has been for decades."

While it's true that we have had a two tiered system as you describe, this new development is likely going to spread creating much more of a two tiered system.

Although, I suppose I shouldn't say 'new' since even this has been going on for some time, they just managed to keep it secret for a while. The fact that if you weren't part of the 'in' crowd you never even were aware that such an option existed is particularly despicable, but we shouldn't have this disparity anyway.

"What is the function of the prison then? Is punishment negated?"

That is one of the biggest problems I see with our prison system as it is: it's punative rather than rehabillitative. Really these '5 star' prisons are more the way prisons should be, the problem is they are only for a few.

Another problem with this new system is that it is going to remove most of the pressure to reform the horrible conditions of the rest of the prisons.

Posted by K X One | April 29, 2007 2:52 PM

This is getting to be a big cash cow for government, just like the war on drugs. Guess there's no stopping it now. Thanks for the link, Dan.

Posted by brentandrews | April 29, 2007 6:24 PM

KX One is 100% right.
This is despicable. America's prisons are the 21st Century plantation, a karmic trap that reduces all our platitudes about justice and fairness and humanity to a sick joke. This only makes them worse.

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