Fremont's Pay-to-Stay Jail Offers a More Pleasant Prison Experience

Businessmen in jail
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Earlier today, I wrote about New York's cheapest hotel, where $10 buys a room that's a little smaller than a prison cell -- and not nearly as nice. A San Francisco-area city is now offering the opposite service: For a price, scofflaws can get a deluxe jail cell that, while not quite hotel-grade, is still miles better than the standard prison accommodations -- much less New York's Sun Bright hotel!

In 2002, Fremont built a $10.6 million, 58-bed detention center. While the facility don't quite qualify as five-star, is still a lot nicer than the local prisons, where gang affiliations and overcrowding can make a stay harrowing, to say the least.

The Fremont detention center is rarely filled to capacity -- a factor that led town officials to offer the space as a pay-to-stay prison. Under the new program, healthy, nonviolent offenders who don't have a gang affiliation and have not been convicted of a sex crime can stay in one of Fremont's cells for $155 per night, with a one-time $45 fee.
For the jail's new occupants, many of whom will likely come from rich enclaves in San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the benefits are obvious: The program enables them to avoid the general population in one of the area's overcrowded prisons. For Fremont, it's also a great deal: It costs the city only $8.35 per night to take care of its prisoners, which means that it realizes almost $147 a night of profit for every bed it fills.

Fremont is hardly the first California city to open a pay-to-stay prison: There are approximately 15 such programs in Southern California, with rates ranging from $85 to $255 per day. This is, however, the first in the Bay Area -- a region whose extremely wealthy citizenry would seem to make it especially fertile ground for such a program.

Other states have experimented with pay-to-stay prisons, but most don't offer California's two-tiered system. In Michigan and Ohio, pay-to-stay jails attempt to charge every inmate, often on a sliding scale that takes into account their earnings, dependents, and other financial data. In addition to creating a lot of paperwork, the programs aren't nearly as lucrative as one might expect: Ohio's Fairfield county, for example, was only able to recover about 12 percent of the charges that it levied on inmates.

It remains to be seen how profitable Fremont's plan will be, but -- given California's statewide prison problems and budget woes -- it looks like the small city just may have found a way to make crime pay.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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Most of you people don't get it. These places are "serving a wealthier population", but they also keep people away from many of the evils that one finds in a prison or jail. Based on what I know, many jaila and prisons in this country serve barely edible food and many inmates are sexually molested. Do we really think people should be treated this way? If someone has the money to avoid such atrocities, why not give them this kind of option.
As far as the arguments about unfairness to the poor, give me a break. the whole criminal justice system is unfair to the poor.

August 08 2013 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to PETE's comment

Why not? Because it is JAIL, not a vacation.

August 09 2013 at 12:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

So, the rich kids get better treatment than the poor kids because they can afford it? That's just wrong on so many levels....

August 07 2013 at 3:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

And these people would come from other ciites and counties so it would be those places that are actually allowing people to buy there way out of jail so to speak. or to the unreality of jail..

August 07 2013 at 3:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

well at $155 per night, 58 beds 365 days a year the taxpayers should recoup the contruction costs in 4 years

August 07 2013 at 3:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Cheaper than a nursing home, so just get Granny to rob a bank.

August 07 2013 at 1:58 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to buzzyseed's comment

Then she will also get free medical and dental. Win, win.

August 07 2013 at 8:10 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

IF you care to follow the money you will readily see, that Raceteer Infuenced Corrupt Organizations in concert with City County State Govts found creative ways to warehose people for profit.
Examples are the current situation there concerning Assisted Living, and many Civil Detentions and other heinous crimes and scams allowed to exist in the People's Republic of California!

August 07 2013 at 1:53 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

With the California state wide money grab from every conceivable source, (if they thought they could tax your feet like the old Beatles song, they would tax people for walking) and now they charge prisoner's for accomodations that are nicer? There are 15 such prison's doing this? Why on earth is the state bankrupt?

August 07 2013 at 1:43 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Let me see if I've got this straight. I could rob a bank, pay to stay in a nice jail (off my earnings), and when I get out, I've still got loot left. Doesn't this increase crime? Jail should not be a luxury. It is a penalty for wrong doing. I think criminals should have to work in jail, learn trades, and not get a free ride.

August 07 2013 at 1:30 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to merlin.jones's comment

I totally agree with you. It's enough that many use the money (stolen, etc) to pay for a good attorney, no way they should be allowed to use it to have a nicer stay in jail.

August 07 2013 at 3:40 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I object strongly to any publicly paid for facilities that are really only available to the rich. Here, we have roads with special lanes that are paid for by the public at large, but are only used by the rich as these lanes are toll lanes. If my taxes pay for something, then I should have equal access. (Hopefully, I will never have need of a delux jail cell!)

August 07 2013 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
T Rock

10.6 million tax dollars for 58 beds. $155/night + $45 fee to "stay" at a jail? It is supposed to be a place to be punished for your crimes.

August 07 2013 at 12:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply