Monday, July 29, 2013

The Inmate as Customer: "Pay-To-Stay" and the Commodification of Punishment

This morning Huffington's Post reports about the Fremont Jail:

The Fremont Police Department is now offering its inmates a "pay to stay" option. For a one-time fee of $45 plus $155 a night, prisoners serving short sentences on lesser charges can stay in a smaller facility while avoiding county jails.

"It's still a jail; there's no special treatment," Lt. Mark Devine, a Fremont police official who oversees the program, told Chris De Benedetti of the Argus. "They get the same cot, blanket and food as anybody in the county jail, except that our jail is smaller, quieter and away from the county jail population."

This arrangement differs somewhat from the previously covered arrangement at the Riverside Jail: payment is not for basic incarceration, but for upgraded, improved services. The concerns raised by the ACLU are that the prison experience is likely to be tiered across race and class lines. But I think this is part of a larger humonetarian trend: The commodification of the prison experience and seeing the inmate as customer. Not the customer's-always-right from the early days of the service industry, but the customer-as-mass-consumer of the conglomerate era. It's no wonder inmates review prisons on Yelp.

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