Prisoners in Fremont, Calif., sentenced on misdemeanor charges can fulfill their prison stays in an isolated, less-crowded section of the city jail - for a price.
The new "Pay to Stay" program is new to Fremont, but not new to California, said Geneva Bosques, a spokeswoman for the Fremont Police Department. Similar programs, for example, exist in Southern California.
During sentencing deliberations, people can apply to be enrolled in the program. In order to gain approval from the judge, one would have to pass a health screening, which includes a TB test, and a background check to ensure that they do not have a violent past. Once an application is approved and a onetime $45 fee is collected, the inmate can stay in this "quiet" prison for $155 a night.
Although the program offers additional revenue for the city, it has been met with criticism.
Carl Takei, staff attorney for the ACLU National Prison Project, told ABC News that programs like this promote inequality and are unfair.
"One person should not be able to pay to stay in a nicer prison than someone who cannot afford it," said Takei. "It's a matter of equality."
Although inmates are separated from the general population at Fremont Jail, Bosques told ABC News that inmates in the "Pay to Stay" program would not get special treatment.
"They get the same treatment as the general population - same food, same bed, same phone call and TV rights," said Bosques.
One possible exception to the claim of equal treatment is that inmates in the program can serve up to 96 hours in a row, any day of the week. Those inmates not in the programs, dubbed weekenders, can only serve their jail terms on weekends.
Bosques noted that the program is just a new option for judges during sentencing.
"Judges can send you to jail, make you do community service, wear an electronic monitoring device or even send you to rehabilitation," Bosques told ABC News. "Now, with the program, instead of staying in Oakland's busy jail with the general population, you can stay by yourself."
The program's designated pods can accommodate as many as 58 people, but Fremont Police believe that the program will never reach maximum capacity. The pods feature cells that have at least four beds so, in some cases, if there enough people, inmates would be sharing cells.
Bosques told ABC News that the program was inspired by similar programs elsewhere and a citywide sustainability study looking to generate more revenue.
"In 2011, the city went under sustainability study. This study looked at all city services, and they looked at places where we could possibly generate revenue," said Bosques. "Once they saw we had space, the city came up with a plan to consolidate some city services. This is one of those work plan initiatives that comes with that program."
Although the program is new and city sponsored, Bosques said that it would not be paid for by city taxpayers.
"On a normal weekday, we book 12 to 15 prisoners. Sixteen participants for the new program would be awesome," said Bosques. "But most importantly, it doesn't change staffing at all. There is really no burden for the taxpayer."
Although this program is in the Fremont Jail, anyone who is sentenced to jail time in California for a misdemeanor offense can request to fulfill their time in the Fremont "Pay to Stay" program.
Bosques said that no one has used the program yet.
In California, programs like "Pay to Stay" are generating controversy, especially with organizations like the ACLU, because of California's rampant prison overcrowding.
"The overcrowding problem could be resolved by adopting better law system policies," Takei said. "It's really about how many people need to be in prison and who could not be in prison."
But, Takei said, in this particular case, the real issue is that Fremont built the jail in the first place.
"Fremont has a different problem," Takei said. "Why did they build a jail that is five times bigger than what they needed? Now they need to cover the cost of the unused jail space. If they built it for just a dozen people then they wouldn't need to come up with these programs that are so unfair."