If Johnny The Fence, doing a stretch of two to five years, wants to get out of the stir, all he has to do is claim that his back hurts and he can no longer endure the strain of prison life.
If Dave the Meth Dealer, scheduled to be incarcerated for the next five years, doesn’t like spending his days behind bars, he can just call for the doctor and say he’s having migraines and needs to be home in his own bed.
Worse, if Lance the TV Star gets a couple of DUIs and can’t quite cope without his hot tub and his Porsche, all he has to do is hire a high-powered attorney who specializes in helping the rich and famous avoid responsibility.
Which brings us to Paris Hilton, up until Thursday the most famous prison inmate in the country. But authorities have decided that, after “extensive consultation with Los Angeles County medical personnel,” she is finished with her sentence after just five days, and will now serve the rest of her time at home, wearing an ankle bracelet.
No word yet on whether Paris will be free to roam wherever she wants until a custom-made, diamond-studded ankle bracelet is delivered by Tiffany’s, but you know that’s coming.
I’m no legal expert, but I know enough as a private citizen to understand the importance of precedent. And this sets a horrible precedent.
Paris Hilton had already been coddled beyond belief. She had been sentenced to 45 days in prison for violating the terms of her probation on an alcohol-related reckless driving case. She didn’t get it. She reasoned that just because the law requires a person to spend time in jail if they don’t comply with the terms of her probation doesn’t mean she can’t drive around without a suspended license.
Then when she appeared before a judge, she claimed she didn’t know, that she was told by her publicist, Elliot Mintz, that it was all right to drive around under those circumstances. Then she fired her publicist before hiring him right back.
Then she whined about how unfair it all was. Her quote: “I feel I was treated unfairly and that the sentence is both cruel and unwarranted. I don’t deserve this.” She neglected to mention how cruel it would have been had she killed somebody while driving under the influence.
Her mother, Kathy Hilton, otherwise known as “The Enabler,” called her original 45-day sentence “pathetic and disgusting, a waste of taxpayers’ money” and “It is a joke.”
Then some of her friends suggested going to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to seek a pardon. One of them even wrote Arnold a letter, claiming Hilton should go free because “she provides beauty and excitement to most of our mundane lives.” I don’t know if it’s possible for a governor to veto a letter, but Arnold should have looked into it in this case.
That fan letter also claimed this: “She provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world.” I’m sure she does now that she managed to weasel out of a 45-day jail sentence after just five days. I’m sure there are guys on death row who think anything’s possible now.
Paris Hilton was originally scheduled to serve 45 days in prison. Almost immediately, it was cut down to 23 days because of a good-behavior discount credited in advance. And now, after five days and several reports from bloggers and gossip sites that she cried a few times and didn’t like the accommodations, she was allowed to go home.
I know it sounds incredibly naïve, but what kind of a message does this send?
What about Tom Sizemore? The actor was just taken into custody on Wednesday for violating terms of his probation on a drug possession charge. If I were advising him, I would tell him that, instead of continuing to be 45, male and fairly nondescript, he should instead become 26, female and beautiful. Oh, and cry a lot. That would help. Law enforcement officials interpret that as a sign that you want to get out early.
For that matter, what about any celebrity now who gets pulled over for anything? Jail isn’t really a serious deterrent anymore, because if a celebrity is arrested, he or she will simply ask for “that Paris deal,” and he or she will probably get it, because a precedent has been set.
Paris Hilton already had her sentence reduced once, to just over three weeks. She didn’t have to endure the humiliation of a cavity search, which is standard. She was whisked through the intake process rather than have to stand and wait like all the other inmates.
On top of all that, she wasn’t even exposed to the general prison population, but rather was kept secluded, in her own cell.
So if Paris Hilton had medical issues, why wasn’t she brought to the infirmary? Better yet, if celebrity worshippers wanted her to continue to get special treatment, why didn’t they allow her own doctors to treat her? What medical issues could she have had that couldn’t be accommodated while she was behind bars?
What really appears to have happened is she was stricken with that most heinous of maladies: not getting her way.
So, in their infinite wisdom, law enforcement officials gave her what she wanted.
Granted, she didn’t get everything she wanted. She won’t be able to go clubbing for another couple of weeks or so, which in the celebrity realm is like being pilloried in the town square. She won’t be able to “provide beauty and excitement to most of our mundane lives” from home confinement, although that could change if somebody slips in a video camera.
And, most important, she won’t be able to drive. After all, we wouldn’t want her to get in trouble and go to jail again.
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.