George Graham

Surprise! We’re Not Equal under the Law.

I’m sure you know the rich can buy their way out of trouble – even trouble with the law. They have the money to hire the best lawyers and prepare the most effective defenses, for one thing.

But did you know they can buy an easier life even when they get sentenced to jail?

Research by the Marshall Project and the Los Angeles Times has revealed the existence of 26 “boutique” prisons in Southern California. These institutions cater to convicted felons who can afford to pay a premium to avoid the grim conditions of regular prisons.

According to the researchers, boutique prisons exist throughout America, not just in California.

I am not surprised.

My encounters with the criminal justice system during my time as a reporter in Florida left me with no illusions about “equality under the law.”

Once, when I went to interview a Pasco County commissioner who had been convicted of bribery, I found he wasn’t housed in the regular prison but at the fire station just outside its walls. He was assigned to maintain the fire engine – in case it ever had to be used.

Then there was the Palm Harbor banker convicted of money laundering. He was at a federal prison in Tampa, and on weekends his chauffeur would come and pick him up. He spent the weekends at his mansion and aboard his yacht.

Criminal justice in America has many shades of gray. You don’t just go to prison. You go to various kinds of prison, often depending on the luck of the draw.

And the punishment you get depends on the judge who gets your case.  If the judge happens to be a member of your yacht club, for example,I bet you’ll get a more sympathetic hearing.

Look it’s no accident that the vast majority of prison inmates are poor and non-white. It’s no accident that the poor are being sentenced to jail when they can’t pay their traffic tickets. It’s no accident that debtors are being jailed as they used to be in the days of Charles Dickens.

Every day in America the rich get more breaks and the poor get treated worse. And as long as the voters allow these conditions to persist, we’ll just have to live with them, I suppose

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About the author


I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for