On Aug. 22, 2010, Mai Hayakawa was a passenger in Michael Keating’s car when they were in an accident, killing Hayakawa. At the time, Keating’s blood alcohol content was 0.09 percent, which is 0.01 percent over the legal limit. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
Keating served two years of his sentence and his family paid $72,000 to ensure he never saw the inside of a regular prison cell. A judge granted Keating permission to join the so-called “pay-to-stay” program after he claimed he feared for his safety inside a regular prison.
The “pay-to-stay” program is a municipal program in Seal Beach, California, and several other cities that allows people to pay more than $100 a night to stay in special cells with a smaller population with people who have been prescreened for violence. Inmates also have access to amenities like books, television, a yoga studio, a gym and a well-stocked commissary. Some prisoners are allowed to leave for work.
"We cater to good people who make bad choices,” Seal Beach Detention Center Sgt. Steve Bowles said.
"We traditionally do not accept violent offenders," he added. "But we have had some (applicants) with sensitive needs, such as age (or previous work as) police informants; people who have issues that would make them unsafe or less suitable for county jail.”
Many people are critical of the program.
"What a terrible idea,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU of Southern California. "What a slap in the face for the concept of equal justice for all. If it’s a public service — that should be offered to everyone regardless of their ability to pay."
Keating said his stay in jail wasn’t easy. “Even the most comfortable cage is still a cage,” he told the Orange County Register. He said the the psychological toll was far harder than the cold showers and hard plastic bed mats.
"It’s hard not to question your memory, like ‘What if I really am a bad person?" he said. "I’m here; I’m wearing orange. Trying to convince myself that I’m not a horrible person even when I didn’t believe it.”
Hayakawa’s mother, Chiho Hayakawa, was stunned. “I feel his solution comes from money.”
Keating said he regrets not apologizing to the Hayakawa family. “They’ll forgive me before I forgive myself,” he said.
Photo Credit: Orange County Register