What do you do if you are a convicted felon and don’t want to serve hard time at an overcrowded county jail? Well, if you’re rich enough, you can stay at a jail in Seal Beach, enjoying the lack of terrifying cellmates and abundance of clean beds, computers and flat-screen televisions. According to a recent report by the Marshall Project, Seal Beach is just one of several Southern California cities that earn a handsome profit by offering well-heeled crooks luxury suites behind bars.
The Seal Beach case isn’t hypothetical. In 2010, according to the Marshall Project report, a convicted sex offender named Alan Wurtzel met a woman on a dating website and after taking her for coffee and scoring a second date, allegedly took her home and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Given his prior record, a judge sentenced him to a year in county jail. The victim was disappointed that the sentence was so short, but couldn’t believe that Wurtzel managed to avoid LA County Jail entirely. Instead, Wurtzel, apparently acting on an ad he saw in the LA Weekly offering amenities like a computer/media room, flat screen TVs, new beds and work release, paid $100 per night to serve a six-month sentence at the Seal Beach Jail, for which the city earned $18,250.
Besides Seal Beach, at least 25 other Southern California cities are making cash by offering “pay-to-stay” jail cells, including Anaheim, Huntington Beach and Fullerton. Between 2011 and 2015, some 3,500 inmates took advantage of the opportunity, including “more than 160 participants who had been convicted of serious crimes including assault, robbery, domestic violence, battery, sexual assault, sexual abuse of children and possession of child pornography.”
To learn more about which cities allow “pay to stay” inmates to avoid county jail time at their facilities—and to see exactly what kind of inmates are taking advantage of the program—check out the Marshall Project report here.