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Locking up a good review
August 12, 2014, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal

So much for three hots and a cot. Today’s inmates are demanding more from their county jails. Wrinkled uniforms in faded orange won’t cut it. Freshly pressed and please use color safe bleach. As for those meal times — would a gluten-free option be too much to ask? And perhaps an extra pillow?

Yes, in this era of the discriminating criminal, the clientele are looking for something beyond the mundane and those who find the accommodations up to snuff are turning to the only place somebody might listen: the Internet.

Yelp, the first stop for some seeking out a good Sunday brunch or speedy tailor, is also the online spot to review the local incarceration hubs. The idea actually seems a little pointless; one typically doesn’t stop to consider the quality of the area jail or honor farm when deciding where to commit a crime. San Mateo doesn’t suddenly seem more palatable than say San Jose when drawing up the burglary map because the would-be thieves have heard such and such about each county’s behind bars offerings. Although that might explain why two guys from Arizona were recently popped for allegedly flying to the Bay Area to burglarize fancy Woodside homes. Maybe the draw was less the likelihood of finding riches and more the distance from Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s infamous jail and tent city.

Then again, maybe not. The verdict on San Mateo County’s Maguire Correctional Facility isn’t particularly glowing although to be fair it is based on a single review posted in December 2013. The reviewer only gives the jail one star out of a possible five and notes the expense of the commissary. On the upside, the man does say the food is better than at its counterparts in San Francisco and San Bruno. He ends with a bit of advice: don’t get in trouble and don’t end up there.

True that.

But for those who do decide to vacation, however long or briefly, at 300 Bradford St., here’s hoping they find their stay similar to a person who used Yelp to review the Lew Sterrett Justice Center in Dallas, Texas. They gave five stars for free room and board, free health care, cute nurses and, oh yeah, “watching Jerry Springer on the tube.”

One gentleman with tongue very firmly in cheek began his satirical review with “I really wanted to love this place” before launching into a detailed description of how the servers didn’t even know where the beef was farmed. Another gave four stars for the “industrial vibe of the accommodations” coupled with a high noise level akin to the best hipster restaurants.

Joking aside, several of the other reviews range from “disgusting” to descriptions of the staff as likely former Walmart employees which just seems a tad rude to both parties.

So where is this level of vitriol and humor among the Peninsula set? Maguire should rate more than just one measly review.

What about the individual sporks passed out to inmates? Personal cutlery merits at least a half-star. The close proximity to the courthouse might also be a selling point unless you consider the shackled van ride to hearings a good excuse for an outing. Write about that.

Then there’s the overcrowding issue. Jail staff should encourage outgoing inmates to share their views on that aspect of the facility. It will help sell the public on the idea of the new jail currently being constructed in Redwood City.

One of Yelp’s best features is the ability to scroll through customer photos for a more realistic look at hotel rooms, dessert plates and scenic views. This wouldn’t work out so well in a jail — that whole cellphone ban kind of gets in the way — so readers will need to rely on powerful descriptions by those who’ve actually spent some time there. In fact, they should take notes during their stay. It’s not like they don’t have the time.

Yelp, which recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary and first-time profitability, sells itself as a way to help people make a choice. Who better to use it than those who’ve already made some questionable ones?

Michelle Durand’s column “Off the Beat” runs every Tuesday and Thursday. She can be reached at: or (650) 344-5200 ext. 102. Follow Michelle on Twitter @michellemdurand What do you think of this column? Send a letter to the editor:



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Other stories from today:

Letter: An important meeting for Burlingame renters
Letter: State of affairs
Letter: Water conservation on the Peninsula

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