Going to jail isn’t supposed to be like checking into a good hotel. But when low-risk misdemeanor offenders choose to pay extra in order to serve their terms in a city jail instead of doing their time in Orange County’s overcrowded jail system, that’s good for the county.
Currently, the county’s jails are so jammed that Sheriff Brad Gates allows for early releases of certain inmates rather than violate a federal court order that limits the jail population. Meanwhile, several cities have jails that, for the most part, remain under-utilized.
Huntington Beach became the first city in Orange County to authorize a plan under which misdemeanor offenders, with the court’s approval, can serve their sentences in the city’s jail, which has set aside 12 cells for men and four for women for that purpose. The cost to inmates will be $100 for the first 24-hour period and between $65 and $100 for each subsequent day, based upon the applicant’s ability to pay. Bear in mind, these aren’t high-risk criminals but people convicted of minor crimes who are sentenced to short terms.
Several other cities in Southern California, including Pasadena and Redondo Beach, also offer their jails as a “pay-as-you-serve” alternative to county facilities. In Huntington Beach, the City Council approved the plan in order to raise revenue--about $166,000 a year, or 14% of the city’s annual jail budget. That’s not small change, especially for a city that has been scrambling to offset a $3.8-million shortfall in its current budget.
Most cities have only holding facilities and don’t have the option of opening their jails to sentenced offenders. But a few, such as Anaheim, are also considering opening their jails to paying prisoners. When county jail facilities are adequate, it’s probably not a good idea to offer a preferable location to those inmates who can pay for it. That creates a two-tier system of incarceration. But in Orange County, at least temporarily, it helps a little to alleviate jail overcrowding.