Blogging here from Calitics east, as I’m in Philadelphia the next several days. And I know that it’s simply not de rigeur for an upstanding progressive blog to try and talk seriously about the Paris Hilton case, but hidden underneath it all is an untold story about the inadequacy of our prison system.
There’s a tug-of-war between the Sheriff and the county lockup administrators, who are treating Paris like they do every other inmate of her station, and the judge and city attorney, who are keen on making her an example due to public outrage and the fact that it’s just cool to hate Paris. Here’s the thing, folks: she was sentenced to 45 days. As the LA Times reported today, the average time served for a woman in county lockups with that length of sentence… is 4 days.
Although Hilton has become a lightning rod for many who see inequities in the justice system, the reality is more complicated.
Because of overcrowding in Los Angeles County jails, release criteria now call for female offenders to be freed after serving 10% of their projected sentence. So for an inmate who, like Hilton, was sentenced to 45 days, serving no more than four days would be the norm.
Because Hilton represents a kind of simmering class resentment in our country, there’s this desire for prosecutors to throw the book at her, lest they have the villagers descend on them with torches. The truth is that the city is dealing with her FAR more harshly than they would anyone else accused of the same crime. And the entire reason for that is the breakdown of our overcrowded, understaffed prison system.
Notice also that the bloodlust to see Paris serve hard time is entirely consistent with the “tough on crime” rhetoric that has gotten us into this terrible mess in the first place. And we know that continually pushing for longer and longer sentences has caused inmate populations to go up while crime rates go down, has severely limited the ability for the state to properly rehabilitate and treat prisoners and caused the recidivism rate to be the worst in the nation, and has practically eliminated any successful use of the corrections system. Spending billions on more beds won’t change this, only a change in mindset in how we treat nonviolent offenders and establish equal treatment and equal possibility for redemption under the law. The bill calling for an independent sentencing review commission, versions of which passed the Senate and Assembly this week, offer the best opportunity to actually change the mindset.
Paris Hilton is no saint. She violated her probation, and then tried to get out of jail because she didn’t like it, and it almost worked. But she’s only taking flak for it because of her profile. This is happening every single day, where people can buy their way out of the general population, and work their way out of prison because there’s no room for holding them. Let’s not be so naive to think that once Hilton’s out of the system in 6 weeks, it will be magically running any differently.