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Lieutenant Tom Mikkelsen walks past a table with an inlaid checkers and chess board at the Fremont Police Department Dentention Facility on Monday, July 22, 2013 in Fremont, Calif. The Fremont jail offers a Pay-to-Stay Program for qualified men and women who have been sentenced to serve time in jail. Inmates can pay to stay at the Fremont facility rather then serve time in county jail. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

FREMONT -- The rooms are tiny, windowless and furnished with cots next to a tiny toilet and sink. Guests get three square but unspectacular meals a day. Prior to check in, a court order is required.

The charge for a not-so-leisurely stay in the Fremont Police Detention Facility's Pay-to-Stay program? At $155 daily, with a one-time fee of $45, it's nearly the same as a standard room in a nearby hotel.

But revenue-hungry Fremont officials hope those convicted of misdemeanors in Alameda County courts will conclude that the benefits of the new Pay-to-Stay program -- the first of its kind in the Bay Area -- are worth the cost. Inmates with brief sentences can serve their time on weeknights close to home, avoiding the larger and rougher county jails in Oakland and Dublin.

"It's still a jail; there's no special treatment," said Lt. Mark Devine, a Fremont police official who oversees the program. "They get the same cot, blanket and food as anybody in the county jail, except that our jail is smaller, quieter and away from the county jail population."

Don't bother looking for Yelp reviews -- the Pay-to-Stay program is new and has yet to welcome its first guest. Devine acknowledges that the county looked at hotel rates when setting the price, "so we're not gouging anybody." Like a hotel, there's soap, towels and even free toothpaste -- everything but the freedom to check out and walk away.

Pay-to-Stay also might give Fremont a financial boost, which has prompted critics to accuse the program of being elitist because it excludes those who can't pay the freight.

But officials at the Fremont jail, which was constructed in 2002 for $10.6 million, say the program will help the facility pay for itself and its daily operations.

"The jail has 58 beds, but at any one time on the weekend we're lucky if we have a dozen people using it," Devine said. "We have a lot of unused capacity, so we have unused taxpayer-invested money just sitting there."

Lieutenant Tom Mikkelsen is photographed at the Fremont Police Department Dentention Facility on Monday, July 22, 2013 in Fremont, Calif.  The Fremont jail
Lieutenant Tom Mikkelsen is photographed at the Fremont Police Department Dentention Facility on Monday, July 22, 2013 in Fremont, Calif. The Fremont jail offers a Pay-to-Stay Program for qualified men and women who have been sentenced to serve time in jail. Inmates can pay to stay at the Fremont facility rather then serve time in county jail. (Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group)

The Fremont jail spends $8.35 per day on each inmate. If it is able house 16 inmates for two nights per week each year -- a fairly modest occupancy goal -- the city would turn a net annual profit of about $244,000, Devine said.

To apply, a misdemeanor convict must get a judge's order and be screened by jail officials. Applications can be found on the Fremont police website.

The program does not accept all applicants, said Lt. Tom Mikkelsen, who runs the jail's day-to-day operations. Any inmates with gang affiliations or a history of violence or sex crimes will be sent to one of the county jails. Major health conditions also disqualify inmates because the Fremont jail has no medical staff.

"This place is for a person who has committed a petty theft or a DUI," Devine said. "It's for people who need to serve one or five, or maybe 10 days in jail."

Visitors will find their living quarters divided into "pod areas," where each of two floors contains a row of four rooms, most of which have two cot-like sleeping areas. They are next to an open community space with a large flat-screen TV and tables topped with painted checkerboards and other games. In addition to basic toiletries, an inmate receives a phone card that allows three calls, each lasting a maximum of five minutes. Daily meal service includes a sandwich at lunchtime and a TV dinner.

Similar jail programs are offered in about 10 Southern California cities, such as Anaheim, Beverly Hills and Glendale. Roseville, near Sacramento, is Northern California's only other municipality with such a program.

"We didn't reinvent the wheel here," Devine said.

Carl Takei, an American Civil Liberties Union official, criticized Fremont's Pay-to-Stay program, calling it "a jail for the rich."

"There should not be one form of punishment for those who can afford to pay and a different form of punishment for those who can't," he said.

Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison said the Pay-to-Stay program is nothing new. "People have done alternative jail services forever, whether you're talking about ankle bracelets or halfway houses" he said. "These are people fulfilling an obligation to society while, at the same time, not burdening Fremont taxpayers."

Harrison said he asked city staff members -- "half in jest" -- whether inmates will be charged the transient occupancy tax that Fremont's hotel guests pay (they will not.)

"I'm proud that they're looking for ways to create revenue," he said, "and are thinking outside the box."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.