Sunday, 10 June 2007

Harris Pilton

I've always though rich and poor ought to be equal before the law, so I've been a little surprised the past couple of days to read the reactions to the troubles of wealthy PH, whose name will not be mentioned to prevent future floods of sadcases dropping in here on their endless desperate Google searches. I never thought I'd see so many people I thought were civilised, turn out to be so bloodthirsty and vindictive just because the object of their derision is of a very rich family.

My feelings crystallised on reading a post by my friend Jules Siegel, the famed Playboy writer, on the Newsroom-l list he administers. Jules originally argued with those who thought PH was getting off lightly, but then he looked (gasp!) into the facts, and this is how he revised his opinion (he kindly gave permission for me to quote him at length):

She was singled out for especially harsh sentencing because she's a celebrity.

Let's look at the details. She had exactly one DUI conviction and received three years probation. Probation is normal for DUI first offenders, according to United States Justice Department figures.

She was then later arrested for driving with a suspended license and violating the terms of her probation. Very few people convicted of similar offenses in Los Angeles do more than 10% of their time because the prison system is too crowded. Non-violent offenders are usually released after going through the reception process or within a few days

The judge specifically forbade the sheriff from applying these policies in Hilton's case, but he failed to explain why she was any worse than the thousands of other offenders who were allowed to go free

Try to understand the judge's mentality here. This is a high-profile media visibility case for him. If he treats her like any other person in the same situation, she will get off without much -- if any -- time. Because of public ignorance and the media's law and order tilt, he'll look soft on crime, when he's merely applying the normal punishment.

If he kicks her around, however, he looks tough, impartial and righteous.

The sheriff has to deal with the actual consequences of this publicity-motivated decision in the real world. He's been handed a very serious security problem and does not have the resources to deal with it. Prisons are very dangerous places. Paris Hilton is at greater risk than other prisoners because of her position, just as she's at greater risk of being kidnapped in a place like Mexico where kidnapping is still a common crime.

Additionally, since the tabloids are offering huge sums for pictures of her in jail, he's got to make sure that all cameras and cellphones are rigorously secured.

The solution was to keep her in solitary confinement 23 hours a day for her own protection, even though she had done absolutely nothing at all to deserve this. I find it interesting that this is the only case of solitary confinement for a non-violent crime that liberals are applauding.

So then she freaks out and/or gets physically sick. It's been argued that he could have put her in the prison infirmary. Sure he could. But that has two very serious unrelated consequences. It would tend to make public what are surely the entirely inadequate prison medical facilities. Some very ugly information could come out. Secondly, the treatment might make her even sicker and could result in some form of permanent damage or even death, a tragic outcome by any measure.

All of this results from violations of traffic laws and the terms of her probation. Driving with a suspended license after one DUI conviction is not exactly a capital crime. By the current standards of the Los Angeles correctional system she does not belong in jail for more than a few days at most. Others are treated more compassionately than she was, if only because the prison system cannot physically handle so many prisoners.

Thus the original premise of my original post is pretty much wrong.

UPDATE: Stanley Bing has a great post to the Bing Blog along the same lines.