I want to own my own prison

A huge bet on how you pay bail

Dear Mary Alice: If someone is arrested and given the opportunity to be released on bail, can he/she pay with a personal check or a credit card? Not that I’m planning ahead or anything...this was the topic of a recent dinner conversation, and a huge bet is riding on the answer. — A Totally Law-Abiding Citizen, San Diego

Dear Mr. Alice: A friend of mine has informed me that the prisons in California are all privately owned. Can you verify this for me? Has this been a profitable endeavor for those who have chosen to own their own prisons? Additionally, I would like to know how and where one might find out the particulars of how to own your own prison. I would gladly show my appreciation for answering this question by admitting you “First Year Free” if my dream of owning a prison is ever realized and should you ever find that you are in need of such accommodations. Thank you for your time. — J.B., Lakeside

Everyone needs a goal, J.B. If lusting after electrified chainlink and razor wire gives your life meaning, who am I to stand in the way? But save a bunk for your informative friend, who should be arrested any day now for felony bad facts. The state has only 12 privately managed prisons. They’re called “community correctional facilities,” and they’re small low-security havens for guys who can’t get the hang of parole or living on the outs but are model citizens on the yard. If you plan to open J.B.’s Little Bit o’ Lakeside Community Correctional Facility in your back yard, the nearest competition will be at Eagle Mountain, a 438-bed oasis between Indio and Blythe. It’s run by a Utah-based company called Management and Training Corporation. Most of the others are in the central valley or up north.

Too bad you didn’t inquire sooner. The California Department of Corrections just inked deals for four new CCFs, so you’ll have to wait for another round of bidding when the legislature okays more beds. You get the details when the CDC lets the projects out for bids. They provide specs for general location, construction, maintenance, security and housing features — that kind of thing — and you submit a bid for the package. You find the land, build the place, staff it, run it; you own it, they pay you for it. After 20 years, if you want to turn it into a fat farm or a Club Med, you don’t renew the lease.

About a dozen other companies with big incarceration dreams will be bidding against you. Most of them are already experts in the art of herding large groups of potentially unruly people and convincing them not to leave fenced areas or driving around bags of money in trucks with guns. Wackenhut is one of the industry behemoths. They run San Diego’s city jail on Otay Mesa.

Of course, you could always start out small and work your way up to the prison big leagues. Try dabbling in re-entry or work furlough housing for parolees. They’re CDC supervised and privately run, and you don’t have all the construction or security headaches. Then, if the guys screw up in that facility, you can have the bellhop move their luggage over to your own personal prison. And thanks for the offer, but my mouthpiece says the statute of limitations has run out and they can’t touch me.

As for the big bail bet...we couldn’t find anybody named Mary Alice, so I had to handle it myself. State law says bail must be paid in legal tender. If you call the county’s lockups, they’ll confirm that they only want to see long green or a cashier’s check. But at downtown’s central jail, they will take a local personal check for bail amounts larger than $2000 if the watch commander likes the cut of your jib and the smell of your bank account. He can check it on the spot. Matthew Alice’s bet-settling cut is 15 percent of the wager. And on your way in, I hope you noticed the sign over the door, “In God we trust, all others pay cash.”

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