In 2011, California resident Alan Wurtzel pleaded no contest to sexual battery and was sentenced to a year in jail. But instead of being locked up at the Los Angeles County Jail, Wurtzel found a better option: for $100 a night, he was allowed to avoid the county jail, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Wurtzel served his sentence in Seal Beach’s small city jail — a “pay-to-stay” jail — where amenities included flat-screen TVs, a computer room and new beds. He served six months, at a cost of $18,250, according to jail records.
This network of small city jails opens their doors to defendants who can afford the option, the Times reported.
Research by the Marshall Project and the Times of more than 3,500 people who served time in Southern California’s pay-to-stay programs from 2011 through 2015 found 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.
They include a hip-hop choreographer who had sex with an underage girl; a former Los Angeles police officer who stalked and threatened his ex-wife; and a college student who stabbed a man in the abdomen during a street scuffle.
In Southern California, pay-to-stay jails collected nearly $7 million between 2011 and 2015, according to revenue figures provided by the cities. Some cities openly claim their facilities as safer, cleaner and have more modern amenities.
This upgraded jail cell is not cheap. From 2011 through 2015, the average cost of a stay was $1,756, the Times reported. The most expensive stay, according to jail records, was $72,050, paid by a man responsible for a drunken freeway crash that killed one of his passengers.
On average, defendants served 18 days in pay-to-stay jails, the analysis found.
Shane Sparks, a choreographer with credits on the reality shows "So You Think You Can Dance" and "America's Best Dance Crew," pleaded no contest in 2011 to sexual intercourse with a minor under the age of 16 and served 135 days in Alhambra’s jail. Although a judge said Sparks had to serve his time within a year, he took two years to finish as he continued working and traveling internationally, according to court and jail records.
“It was actually a retreat for me,” Sparks told the Times. He wore his own clothes and brought his own bedding and food, he said. He said he spent most of the time editing musical recordings on his computer.