Fremont offers ‘quieter’ prison stay — for cash

Perhaps money can’t buy you love. But in one Alameda County jail, it can buy you a comfier stay.

The Fremont police department now offers a “pay-to-stay” option for inmates who wish to stay in its facilities to avoid the rowdier county jails of Oakland or Dublin.

For $155 a day, inmates ordered to short jail stints can opt to stay in the “smaller, quieter” Fremont facility away from the county jail population, said Lt. Mark Devine, who oversees the program.

Include the one-time fee of $45, and the cost is similar to that of a three-star hotel. But make no mistakes, said Devine, it is still a jail:

“You do get cable TV, but you don’t get a warm cookie on your bed.”

The option is a good alternative for those charged with misdemeanors and have a jail sentence of ten days or less, said Devine.

In order to participate in the program, inmates must be approved by a judge, undergo a health screening and background check.

If accepted, prisoners are allowed into the $10.6 million facility, which features an open community space with a large flat-screen HDTV and recreational tables with board games.

But of its 58 beds, Devine said most are usually empty:

“[At] any one time on the weekend we’re lucky if we have a dozen people using it.”

Though the program is criticized by the American Civil Liberties Union as “a jail for the rich,” officials said the program will help pay for the facility and its upkeep.

According to Devine, if just 16 inmates spend two nights a week each year, the city would receive a net annual profit of $244,000.

Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison applauded the police department for implementing the promising money-making program:

“I’m proud that they’re look for new ways to create revenue and are thinking outside the box.”

Others like ACLU official Carl Takei, aren’t convinced. He told The Argus it is a matter of inequality:

“There should not be one form of punishment for those who can afford to pay and a different form of punishment for those who can’t.”

Though this is the Bay Area’s first pay-t0-stay program, similar offerings are available throughout other California jails.