Unequal Justice for Paris Hilton

UPDATE 6/26:  Jeremiah Owyang just emailed me about a post on feministing.com on Jeremy Bearer-Friend’s thoughts below.

I was in Los Angeles yesterday sitting in a hotel bearing Paris Hilton’s family name (getting ready to deliver an e-advocacy workshop for the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network) when I received a call from Rex Huppke at the Chicago Tribune asking for comment on Paris Hilton’s abbreviated jail stay. Instead of offering my own thoughts — which would have been colorful — I put him in touch with allies with more expertise on criminal justice reform or the racial disparities in our prison system.

Rex’s article eventually quoted one of the sources I passed along — Bill Ong Hing — who contrasted on the ImmigrationProf Blog the special treatment offered to Hilton versus immigrants who are deported for much lesser offenses.

Another source I referred, Karen Shain, co-director of Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, wrote in an email to me that while her organization “doesn’t believe that most people (including Paris Hilton) need to be incarcerated, it is absurd that she was able to receive [such] special treatment.”

Jeremy Bearer-Friend, a Field Building Fellow with the Oakland-based Movement Strategy Center wrote to me that “it’s imperative to bring in an abolitionist angle.”

“The real scandal here is that women of color are the fastest growing population of incarcerated people in the US, yet this story is never told or reported on. The current media frenzy over Paris demonstrates only the apartheid state we currently live under, with a media that is absolutely uninterested in reporting on the mass incarceration of people of color.

“De-incarceration has been a central goal of prison reform and prison abolition work in California. That Paris has the opportunity to remain within her community and recover from her substance abuse amongst her family is an opportunity that all addicts should be able to enjoy. The reaction to this story is not to lock up everyone for longer and prevent addicts from accessing treatment. The solution is to shut down a broken system and replace it with public health money that can treat addiction and substance abuse in an effective and healing way.”

As I finish writing this post, I received a CNN email alert that a judge ordered Hilton back to jail. “She was taken from the court screaming, The Associated Press reports.”

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