Paris Hilton's `justice' shows that some are more equal than others

June 12, 2007|By CLARENCE PAGE

WASHINGTON -- Forgive me. I thought I could avoid writing about Paris Hilton. Alas, popular demand (translation: my persistent wife) thought otherwise.

Immigration, global warming, and the congressman caught with $90,000 stuffed in his freezer can hardly compete for public attention with the many ironies of the hotel heiress.

You might think that a publicity magnet such as Ms. Hilton, for whom privacy is but a rumor, would carefully abide by the rules of her 36-month probation from last year's drunken driving arrest. But that would require some common sense, one of the few luxuries to which she apparently has been denied.

This time, the pretty poster child for unearned privilege and entitlement has outdone herself for arousing public outrage.

In February, the adventurous star of a leaked sex tape was caught driving 70 mph in a 35 mph zone. Her headlights were off, police say. It was after dark, her license was suspended from an earlier arrest and she had failed to enroll in a court-ordered alcohol-education program. If you wonder why people keep picking on the poor girl, this night of adventure gives you some idea.

Before she turned herself in last week, she appeared to be going through the sort of on-camera, life-changing epiphany that leads many addictive personalities to cures, interviews with Oprah Winfrey and best-selling memoirs.

She told a firing squad of cameras and microphones outside the MTV Awards on June 3 that she wanted to serve her jail time "like everyone else" even though "I did have a choice to go to a pay jail."

"Pay jail"? What, I wondered, is pay jail?

It turns out to be a California thing for minor lawbreakers with major cash in their pockets. For about $100 a day, you can get a little room with a regular door instead of jail bars and a roommate who is not a tattooed enforcer for a gang. You might even get to keep your cell phone, iPod and computer, but don't expect to find a nightly chocolate mint on your pillow.

Could it be one of those legendary perquisites that many black people believe only rich white people know about?

Judging by news accounts, apparently so.

"The [pay jail] program is little known," the Los Angeles Times reported in March, "but its popularity is growing so quickly that you had better make your reservations soon."

"Many of the self-pay jails operate like secret velvet-roped nightclubs of the corrections world," The New York Times reported in April. "You have to be in the know to even apply for entry."

Well, those days of the program being little known ended when Ms. Hilton blabbed about it.

And her efforts to be treated "like everyone else" fell flat when the sheriff transferred her after only three days in a jail cell to house arrest in her lovely and quite spacious West Hollywood home. Then the tug of war between judge and sheriff began. On Friday, the judge ordered her back to jail.

Equal justice? George Orwell got it right: Some are more equal than others.

How to properly punish Paris? New Yorkers have the right idea. Supermodel Naomi Campbell, found guilty of assaulting her maid, and pop star Boy George, busted after cocaine was found in his apartment, were sentenced last year to do community service. In other words, they were sentenced to do real work.

Imagine photographers catching Ms. Hilton cleaning up streets and roadsides in an orange jumpsuit and no makeup. Ah, sweet justice.

Hey, she wanted to be treated like everyone else, didn't she?

Clarence Page is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun. His e-mail is cptime@aol.com.

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