America’s prisons face an ever-growing problem of overcrowding. The Inspector General has recognized the problems plaguing prisons as some of the most threatening to our American justice system. For most of us, this would mean that if we get convicted of a crime and sentenced to serve time, we are constantly facing a greater and greater threat to our safety. But this isn’t always true. For those of means, buying your way out of the prisons of the poor is as simple as signing a check.
Back in 2007, the New York Times reported on a growing trend in California prisons to allow inmates to purchase cleaner and safer prison cells, if they can afford it and know how to apply.
“It’s clean here,” said a female inmate named Nicole Brockett to the Times. She was sentenced to serve 21-days for drunk driving and elected to serve her time in the pay-to-stay jailing. “It’s safe and everyone here is really nice. I haven’t had a problem with any of the other girls. They give me shampoo.”
Ken Kerle, former managing editor of the American Jail Association, was quoted, “I’ve never run into this. … Most of the people who go to jail are economically disadvantaged, often mentally ill, with alcohol and drug problems and are functionally illiterate. They don’t have $80 a day for jail.”
If you do have the money though, you can get a room that offers kind guards, cell phone service and access to a computer. This is a very different experience from those that can’t afford to buy their way out of the commoners’ jail.
According to the Inspector General’s report on means for improving prison safety, “… medium security facilities [were] operating at approximately 45 percent over rated capacity and high security facilities [were] operating at approximately 51 percent over rated capacity.” Even if the department were fully funded, projections estimate that, given the current trends for prison-population growth, facilities will continue to be approximately 44 percent over rated capacity by 2018.
This overcrowding has resulted in countless injuries and altercations. In February of 2013, Correctional Officer Eric Williams was slain by a gang-affiliated prisoner named Jessie Con-ui. Con-ui was known to be an enforcer for the New Mexican Mafia and was serving a life sentence for a murder that took place in Arizona. After obtaining a homemade knife, he sought to assail the officer by “repeatedly stabbing and striking him with weapons and repeatedly kicking, stomping and slamming him about the head, face and torso,” according to the indictment that followed.
The OIG report expresses doubt that increased funding will be available provided the “current budget environment” and suspects that any increases to the budget will just be the result of “less money being available for other Department priorities.”