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Fremont offers pay-to-stay jail program
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FREMONT  (AP) — A Northern California police department is offering an alternative for inmates who might actually want to pay for their stay in jail.

The Fremont Police has started a Pay-to-Stay program at its detention facility for those convicted of misdemeanors and ordered to spend several days in jail in Alameda County. The American Civil Liberties Union, however, believes the program may be elitist and cater to those with money.

The Fremont Argus reports that inmates can pay a $155 daily fee — similar to staying at a hotel — to avoid serving their time in rougher county jails in Oakland and Dublin. The inmates must get a judge's approval and go through a screening by jail officials, Sgt. Chris Hummel said Friday.

Built in 2002, the jail has small rooms with cots that are next to an open community space with a large flat-screen TV and tables topped with painted checkerboards and other games.

Besides the basic toiletries and meals, an inmate in the pay-to-stay program will also receive a phone card that allows three calls, each lasting a maximum of five minutes.

Lt. Mark Devine, who oversees the program, said it is designed for those who have committed a petty theft or a DUI and need to serve one or five, or maybe 10 days in jail.

"It's still a jail; there's no special treatment," Devine said. "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."

The program might give Fremont an economic boost, Devine said. If the jail is able to house about 16 inmates for at least two nights a week, the city could turn an annual net profit of about $244,000, he said.

"The jail has 58 beds, but at any one time on the weekend we're lucky if we have a dozen people using it," Devine said. "We have a lot of unused capacity, so we have unused taxpayer-invested money just sitting there."

Similar pay-to-stay jail programs are offered in other California cities, including Anaheim, Beverly Hills and Roseville, which is located near Sacramento.

Carl Takei, an attorney with the ACLU's National Prison Project, criticized Fremont's pay-to-stay program, calling it "a jail for the rich."

"There should not be one form of punishment for those who can afford to pay and a different form of punishment for those who can't," Takei said.