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?