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Classism Seeps Into California’s Prison System

Monique Fronti met “So You Think You Can Dance?” choreographer Shane Sparks at the Los Angeles dance student at which she studied. A week before she turned thirteen years-old, they started having sex. When Fronti’s therapist reported the abuse to police in 2009, Sparks claimed the relationship was consensual, despite Fronti’s statements about feeling powerless. Later, Sparks pleaded no contest to intercourse with a minor under the age of sixteen; he served 135 days at Alhambra, California’s city jail.


Sparks served his time over two years instead of the mandated one year, as he continued to work. He says that during his time in jail, he wore his own clothes, used his own bedding and brought his own food. When he wasn’t traveling internationally, he spent time editing music on his own laptop.

He said of his time, “It was actually a retreat for me.”

This is a direct product of pay-to-stay jails. People who have been convicted of misdemeanors, and recently even felonies, are allowed to “rent” a bed in a city jail with smaller populations and better amenities. The Southern California jails made over seven million dollars from 2011 to 2015 due to this policy.

City jails have even begun to advocate their jails as cleaner, safer, and more tolerable.

The price paid for a stay varies for each jail, similar to hotels.  Criminals can pay just $25 for a basement bed in LaVerne jail, while more wealthy defendants will pay $251 per night in Hermosa Beach. In Seal’s Beach, defendants can get a flat-screen television, access to a computer room, and a new bed. Just a half-hour drive northeast, prisoners can get a refrigerator, phone, television and an eight bed dorm room in Fullerton.


This system greatly undermines the core goal of criminal punishment: to deter people from committing crimes. Pay-to-stay jails favor elitist and classist values, the idea that the rich are more favorable than the poor. If wealthy families know they can get away with easier punishments, they are obviously more likely to commit the crime. This system puts poor defendants in unfavorable conditions simply because they cannot afford to be treated fairly. It shifts democratic societal debt to oligarchical debt, taking the responsibility of rehabilitating society’s criminals out of the hands of the tax payers and into the hands of the rich. While this may seem beneficial, it’s nothing but a thinly veiled government money-maker. Equal crimes deserve equal punishment, whether or not the perpetrator was born with a silver spoon.  This unfair punishment system puts more pressure on capitalistic success, and less pressure on being a valuable member of society.  In a truly democratic society, if you do the crime, you do the time, despite which tax bracket you’re in.

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