Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dickens and Paris

Hilton, that is. The 26-year old "celebutante," a millionaire in her own right, was released from jail in Los Angeles today after serving three weeks of a 45-day sentence (and evincing "good behavior"). She cost the taxpayers more than ten times the average per day cost of prisoners because of all of the medical and psychiatric evaluations that her legal team managed to shake out of the system. The New York Times reported that already at least one person has filed suit alleging that their own medical needs were neglected by the Sheriff's Office.
I wonder how bad the worst story is in the Los Angeles County penal system? Let's see now, it's going to be a black woman, she has, maybe, leukemia or a brain tumor or something like that. She got arrested for stealing a bag of potato chips, and ended up in one of the worst dungeons in the system, where the doctor didn't get around to examining her for two years. Now she's in a wheel chair and blind, but there is a bureaucratic problem with her $350-a-month payment. Do you think that sounds exaggerated? I invite you to check the United States penal system out.
According to the Justice department's "Prison statistics" page at www.ojp.usdoj.gov, there are currently 2,193,778 people in prison in the United States. This page states that there are 491 prisoners per 100,000 citizens: 471 white males per 100,000 white males, 3,145 black males per 100,000 black males. Approximately 500,000 of those people are imprisoned for drug crimes (as distinct from "drug-related" crimes). nationmaster.com ranks the US as #1 in ratio of prisoners to population on Earth. Russia is #2, and the first western European country to show up on the list is Spain at #61. All of the basket cases and tyrannys of the world are between the US and Spain by this measurement.
And so this to me is the moral of the Paris Hilton case, that we need to see that 26-year old Paris Hilton and a 26-year old black man are entitled to equal justice, in one direction or another. She wasn't dropped down into the Dickensian dungeons, but they're there.

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