Money Can buy you Happiness in Jail

As I have previously discussed, the criminal justice system has become an avenue for the government to make money. We are seeing an influx of cities, counties, and states using criminal charges as a basis for monetary charges assed in exchange for someone’s physical freedom during pretrial, to charge for basic needs while in custody, and to charge for post-sentencing court-imposed requirements. My previous post focused on pretrial release fines and fees and my next post will hone in on the fines and fees related to diversion programs and post-sentencing release, which means this post will illustrate fines and fees imposed while in custody.

A defendant may be in custody at any time once she is arrested for a crime. She may be in custody both pending and during trial because she was ineligible for release (either by statute, a judge’s discretion, or because she did not have the means to pay for her release), or she may be in custody as part of her sentencing. Typically, a person in jail, opposed to prison, is there either pretrial or during trial but pre-conviction; awaiting sentencing and/or transfer to another facility; or serving a relatively short sentence, usually a term less than one year. Prisons are long-term holding facilities that typically house individuals who were convicted of a felony and sentenced to serve more than one year. This post will include fines and fees imposed and collected in both jails and prisons. 

Pay to Stay

The in-custody fee that tends to have the most visceral reaction is the practice of ‘paying to stay’ or charging a ‘per diem’ fee. These fees, typically utilized by county jails, but also in place in prisons, actually charge inmates a daily ‘room and board’ fee for being incarcerated, as if the person 804af573e62f82bd5a90a97b187e0671checked into a hotel. Nationwide, it is unclear whether or not these fees begin accruing while a person is in custody prior to sentencing, if the per diems are only imposed once sentencing has taken place, or if, like in California, the fees can be charged retroactively for pre-sentencing custodial time after a person has been sentenced. Continue reading “Money Can buy you Happiness in Jail”

The Other Bail System: Immigration Detention and Immigration Bonds

My name is Lizbeth Mateo. I am a 3L at Santa Clara Law with an interest in employment and immigration law. Prior to coming to law school I worked with undocumented immigrant families to fight against the deportation of their loved ones. My research will focus on immigration bail, not only because of the work I have done in the past but because being an undocumented immigrant myself makes this an issue that directly impacts me and my family.

When I started thinking about bail and how it works in the immigration context, I realized how little I know about the topic and how little information is available to the public. Since 2007, the national average daily detainee population has been more than 30,000. In fiscal year 2015 alone 406,595 immigrants were detained. A number of those detained were able to reunite with their loved ones either by posting bond or because they were released under their own recognizance – a promise to return to court for further proceedings. It is unclear, however, how many were released in this way— federal population statistics do not include the number of releases, and the numbers on the Transactional Record Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) website do not reflect these numbers either.

My research will be divided into three prongs. First, I will explain how immigration detention and immigration bail works by comparing it to the criminal system. Then I will focus on the issues immigrants face when trying to post bail – from the potential high bail amounts, the lack of resources to pay that money, language barriers when contracting with bail bond companies, and whether bail bond companies have different contracts or regulatory requirements for undocumented immigrants in ICE custody. I will also look at the state and federal regulatory framework for immigration bond services. I will conclude by focusing on pre-deportation release – the possible alternatives to immigration detention and bail, the cost of these alternatives, and the impact they may have on the detained immigrants and their families.  



Criminal Injustice: Attempting Reform with Prop 47

Isn’t it an outrage that one of the richest, industrialized nations on this planet incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation on Earth? This reality is indicative of an overly-punitive culture that neglects mental health, drug abuse, and poverty issues by simply locking up people. Common sense dictates that for social and financial reasons, we must lower our prison and jail populations.

So who should we release? In California, voters enacted Prop 47, which reclassified certain felonies, felonies commonly associated with non-violent drug addicts, into misdemeanors. These new misdemeanors are the possession of concentrated cannabis, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. The remaining misdemeanors are shoplifting, forgery, fraud, receipt of stolen property, and car theft of items valued at $950 or less.

When someone commits a misdemeanor, if the arresting officer believes that there is a reasonable likelihood that the individual will continue committing the offense or that the individual presents a harm to property or other persons, the officer may arrest and book the individual. Then, the individual is held for up to 48 hours at an arresting agency (the sheriff’s department, police department, or wherever the individual is booked), is brought before the judge and told of his charges, and then held in county jail until trial unless the individual can post bail.

Absent these factors, the offender must be released. The arresting officer must simply “cite” the offender, or give written notice of their duty to appear in court on a particular date. This mandate is designed to keep many non-threatening drug users as possible out of jail where their mental health is more likely to deteriorate and their rate of recidivism increases.

Some California law enforcement officials complain that Prop 47 only allows them to cite and release these particular offenders. Allegedly, this prevents the officers from stopping the cycle of petty theft and drug abuse. As Kirk Albanese, deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, states, “It’s a vicious cycle . . . [the offender has] an addiction, we are not holding you accountable, and you’re back into the cycle of using. How do you support that habit? Stealing. Our burglaries are up, car theft is up, break-ins are up—they are all up.”

This blog series intends to identify some disconnects between Proposition 47’s language and its implementation by law enforcement, with a focus on the way in which Prop 47 affects local jail and pretrial populations.

As a second year Santa Clara University law student and Santa Clara County native with an educational background from UC Berkeley, I have become more aware of a marginalized population affected by poverty, drug abuse, and mental illness. I want to educate myself regarding California’s latest initiatives for criminal justice reform and become an advocate for indigent clients who are often segregated from society by social stigma and incarceration.


Debtors’s Prison: How Fines and Fees are keeping the Poor Locked Up

Our nation’s citizens are plagued with a persistent wealth inequality from coast to coast that has infiltrated the entire nation, including within the criminal justice system. I will be writing about the various fines and fees that the criminal justice system imposes on criminal defendants that perpetuates the wealth gap both pre and post-trial. Money is a key factor to answering whether someone spends a night or year in jail or is free to go home; whether someone has the opportunity to participate in a diversion program and potentially get the help they need; and whether one mistake can cause an individual endless and insurmountable debt. I intend to shine light on the way that the criminal justice system has utilized money, or lack thereof, as a proxy for punishment across California. I will also be discussing various fines, fees, and bail systems throughout the nation, juxtaposing them with California’s current procedures.

I’m Vicky Perry, a second year student at Santa Clara Law. I previously studied justice studies and human rights at San Jose State and am furthering my studies in criminal justice at Santa Clara by working towards obtaining a Public Interest and Social Justice Law Certificate. I intend to use my B.S. and anticipated J.D. to practice criminal law, focusing on alleviating the inequalities that the current justice system perpetuates.