What Would You Do For A...

Who's ready for a follow-up change-the-facts to my questions on The Price of Freedom?

Most of my clients say they'd do "ANYTHING" to avoid going to (or staying in) jail. In the Price of Freedom scenario, these are clients who would, presumably, give their last dime to stay out of jail. Unfortunately, they rarely have a dime. So, what about their free time? What about if we're talking not about money, but about time?

Again and again, cleints tell me they'd do "ANYTHING" to avoid a/another night in jail. Really? Would you do community service every single day for a week to avoid a week in jail? Sure, most people swear they would. But, would you do community service every single day for a month, two months, six months, a year, to avoid a week in jail?

I have many clients who would say "Sure," just so they could hit the door and never look back, and I have clients who absolutely would (and could) do a year of community service to avoid a week in jail. I have clients who are single parents engaged in custody battles, they know that even a few days in jail could mean losing their kids forever - they'd do a lot of community service to avoid a little bit of jail. And they'll do it reliably and with smiles on their faces.

Unfortunately, I also have clients with very short memories, who swear repeatedly that they'd do "ANYTHING" to get out of (or stay out of) jail. They get sentenced to a little bit of community service (one to five days), with a long jail alternative (15 days, 30 days, 60 days), and end up with a million excuses of why they didn't do the community service. Most commonly, "I forgot." Well, gee, when you wanted to get out of jail so badly, and you said you'd do ANYTHING, I kind of didn't think that "ANYTHING" meant "anything but agree to do one little thing and then remember to do it and then actually do it." But, hey, what do I know?

So, if you're not going to complete your obligation, is it ever better to just take your jail time and get it out of the way? For instance, I have many clients who are sentenced to counseling. The court-run program meets one day each week for 6 months. To me, that would probably be nothing. It's a little longer than a semester. But so many of my clients look at me like that's the longest program in the world - they can't even imagine doing something that reliably for that long and not missing a session or giving up all together.

But is it worth it? What's the alternative? Well, if they miss too many sessions or get kicked out for any reason, they will go to jail. (Oh, and the classes cost money, but that's going back to the other post.) So, many clients stop going the week that they can't find someone to take care of their kid, or the week they can't get the night off of work, or the night that they don't have any cash on them, and then they're afraid to go back the next week because they might be in trouble for missing a session, and soon they're kicked out. Sometimes the jail alternative is a year, sometimes (depending on the client's record and the charges) the jail alternative is 15 days in jail. 15 days? If you factor in good time credit, credit for time served when they got arrested, maybe throw in a weekend or a holiday, on a 15 day sentence you could be out in about a week.

Now, considering that many, if not most, of my clients are going to mess up and not going to complete the program, and they're going to end up doing the jail time anyway, it almost makes more sense for them to just do the jail time up front rather than pay for and sit through the classes for a few months, then find themselves kicked out and doing the jail time. But, how often do you think I can convince a client of that? How often do you think a client says, "Sure, you're right, I'll never do that class. I'll just stay in jail another week right now and get it over with?" Here's the answer: Never.

And, truthfully, it makes a bad impression on the judge to say, "Judge, he'll just take the 15 day jail alternative up front, he's not going to do the class." In fact, the judge would probably be so put off by that that he'd actually increase the jail sentence.

So, again, we come back to what is your time worth? Maybe the clients who say they'd do "ANYTHING" to get out of jail have it wrong. Maybe jail is the way to go. So, for example, if you had the choice of 1 day of community service or 5 days jail, everyone would do the 1 day of community service, right? But what if it was 5 days community service or 5 days jail? Let's say you already have 2 days jail credit from the time of your arrest. Factor in a weekend, maybe that could come down to 1 day jail or 5 days community service? Is jail so bad that it's five times worse than community service?

Doesn't it depend on what the community service is? Obviously, a day spent stuffing envelopes in the municipal building isn't too bad. But what about a day of cleaning out the public bathrooms in the park? That sounds pretty gross, but is it as gross as jail?

I guess to better answer that, you need a realistic idea of what a jail is like. Yes, it's a lot of sitting around, hanging out, watching TV. But, it's smelly and dirty and gross. (And, if you don't know the smell, you can't imagine the smell. But, I can attest, you do get slightly more used to it, if not completely used to it, eventually.) The people you're with are criminals at best, dangerous and mentally ill criminals at worst.

So, is it ever worth it? Anyone pick jail? Does it ever become "worth it?" What if I threw in a klondike bar?


  1. Interesting post. Wasn't there that LOST actress recently who chose a week in jail over 100 plus hours of community service?

  2. I definitely have had clients who would choose jail over the treatment. Mostly, they have been through the treatment thing before, and had failed and been violated. So, they just decide to go ahead and sit the 90 days (or whatever). Doesn't happen all that often, but it definitely happens.

    I actually find these clients quite refreshing. They may be considered "screw-ups," by some, but I gotta give them props for knowing who they are and what they are capable of.

  3. Sometimes I wish we had caning in this country, at least as an option. I don't tolerate pain very well, but I think even I'd prefer a few quick strokes to the back rather than a month in jail or a year of mandatory "treatment."

  4. You have to love the criminal client. Unlike the matrimonial client, the slightest win to the criminal client is like winning the lottery. They are always grateful and happy with their lawyer. Do a similiar job for a matrimonial client and it is never good enough. There is always some mythical friend out there who did much better in his/her divorce. Yup, criminal law looks better and better each time I read your blog!

  5. Sorry, not a lawyer here, why does a weekend reduce the amount of jail time?


  6. I see way too many people who have pled out but come back and done nothing and then face more. Yet sometimes they want probation again!

  7. In some jails, they don't release people over the weekend. I guess it's a bit of a process to discharge people (make sure they're the right person, make sure they're not wanted anywhere else, etc.). So, they release everyone on Friday that is supposed to be released on a Saturday or Sunday.

    In a long sentence (months or years in prison), it's not going to matter much, but if someone is facing a few day sentence, it can make a big difference.

    Holiday weekends, like Memorial Day, mean that even people scheduled to be released the following Monday get out on Friday.

    I'm not sure that every jail does this, but the few in the places I've worked do.

  8. I have started a new blog for people taking the VA bar exam. General tips and tips for the VA bar exam available. Including emotional support and words of motivation :)


  9. It's just human nature. We value the present over the future. Hence we would do anything in the future if we could get what we wanted now. Unfortunately, when the 'future' arrives, it becomes the 'present' and then that begins to hold more importance over whatever we may have said in the past.

    However, this aspect of human nature can be militated against by the willingness of some to stick to their word, which has more to do with character than human nature.

  10. It would be interesting if ppl insisted on full exercise of their rights: attorney, trial, incarceration, medical care, etc. Full exercise of each and every right at every juncture. (Of course, that assumes they've ever been informed of their rights.)

    It would certainly reduce the number of wrongful arrests made by the local, state, and national forces.

    As it is, releasing ppl to community service acts as a release valve to conceal wrongdoing. It simultaneously recruits labor and keeps ppl afraid of the system, as well as they should be. After watching scores of neighbors get hauled off, young black children, (other minorities and white children in poor neighborhoods, too), learn at an early age that they are strongely mistaken if they consider the police "friends."

    Strangely on the other hand, for the same categories of ppl described above, they are likely to learn that when facing a health care crisis, the best avenue to needed health care is to get thrown into a system that is all too willing to accomodate him. Sad, but true.

    What adds to the sadness level is many of them relaize that the sooner they go the better. If they attempt to recieve treatment on the "outside" they are likely to end up incarcerated anyway. In addition to incarceration, they will have the added burden of a medical bill. Those who think this doesn't happen sorely underestimate the resourcefulness of the most needy members of society.

    Persuading ppl to agree to community svc and probation keeps those ppl answerable to the system. The system needs ppl to be answerable to it in order to acheive sustainable profitablilty should any excess capacity issues come to the attention of the public. Don't get confused, excess capacity is acceptable. Unfilled excess capacity is not acceptable. (At the current rate of incarceration, every man, woman, and child in the US will be incarcerated by the year 2080. That will require the construction of a few facilities. Fear not, the US is prepared. Incarceration facility construction is already among the five largest industries in the country. The US need only scale it up a little to meet demand.)

    The US is always so quick and proud to be number one in statistical measurements. Why should incarceration be any different? The US incarcerates 743 ppl of every 100,000 ppl in the country. Far surpassing the next closest country, Russia, which lags behind with a mere 523 per 100,000. The US has more ppl in jail for personal drug use and non-violent crimes than any other country on the face of the planet. Quite an achievement.

    Apparently, past US national policy was determined by the creation of a memorable slogan, "Just say no" and it has continued the surrounding policy because no one in the entire country has capable of creating a slogan to replace it since then. What other explaination is there?

    The cost to incarcerate someone is about $27,000 per year, which is MORE than four years of tuition to a state public university in many states. Apparently, the US is prouder (and more interested) to graduate ppl from jails and prisons than from colleges and universities. (It's also possile the ppl who decide these things are just afraid of competition.)

    Here's a stretch question: How many of the ppl from "economically challenged" regions who are incarcerated on non-violent or drug use-related crimes could be sent to public state universities, (requiring jobs for the instructors and support staff - a lot of good-paying jobs), for the same amount of money has been spent on the Iraq charade?

    In closing, the US should designate a holiday and hold parades; it's number 1.

    (They could even have mandatory attendance, too. Anyone failing to attend could be put in jail. Ah, wonderful!)

    That's a statistic that many in the US would be willing to fight to keep.

    In discussing this type of issue, there are those type of who need to show how intelligent they are by exclaiming adamantly that the actual cost of incarceration is XX.XX, and variant Y runs XX.XX, given that the coefficient of Zys measures XX.XX. While those types' employers certainly appreciate such tenacious detail, it simply isn't needed in this situation. So to those types, should they recognize themselves, we encourage their participation, but at a depth of detail cognizable by the average participant.

    Thanks for letting me stop by. Next time I get by this way, I'll try not to be so short with my comments.

    Until then don't start no trouble and:
    Beware Gestapo 911

  11. My boyfriend was in this situation once--he had the option of spending the night in the county jail for not paying a ticket or paying it plus a late fine, which amounted to about 250 bucks. I'd say if being in jail wouldn't affect my future job prospects down the road or anything, if the only downside to it would be the bad EXPERIENCE of the jailtime, I would spend a night in jail for 250 bucks. Unfortunately, it's not that simple, and in real life, I'd probably pay it