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Hard time for Hilton, or hardly any?

Times Staff Writers

Despite being sentenced to 45 days in county jail for violating her probation, socialite Paris Hilton is expected to spend three weeks -- and perhaps much less -- behind bars, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials told The Times on Thursday.

Until now, officials have said they believed that Hilton would serve the entire jail term ordered last week by Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer after Hilton repeatedly drove her car while her license was suspended because of a driving under the influence plea.

For the record:

12:00 AM, May. 18, 2007 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 18, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 2 inches; 74 words Type of Material: Correction
Female inmates: An article in the May 11 California section about Paris Hilton’s potential jail sentence stated that female inmates have regularly been serving a greater percentage of their sentences than men. That was true for much of last year. But additional bed space has been made available for men, and Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials say all men now serve at least 50% of their jail sentences, and women serve at least 10%.

But Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said Hilton’s sentence could be cut nearly in half by a state law allowing for credit for time served for good behavior.

In addition, he said, overcrowding in the jail system could further reduce the time she spends in custody.

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“We look at Ms. Hilton as we would any other low-level offending female inmate,” Whitmore said. “There are ... issues that will come into play here, including her criminal history, the nature of the offense and the population of the facility.”

Using those and other factors, “the decision will be made at the time she is booked into the jail.” Whitmore said. “We do this with every single inmate.”

Overcrowding has been a major issue in the L.A. County jail system, with some inmates, even violent ones, serving as little as 10% of their sentences. If that standard were applied to Hilton, she would serve less than a week in jail.

Police and legal experts pointed to the case of actress Michelle Rodriguez, a former star of “Lost.” She was sentenced to 60 days in jail for a probation violation last year but ended up serving less than a day.

Until recently, county jailers routinely released anyone sentenced to less than 90 days as quickly as the inmate could be processed in and out of the facilities, under a policy to ease overcrowding and make room for more serious offenders.

But because overcrowding is less acute in the female facilities, women sentenced to 90 days or more of county jail time regularly have been serving a greater percentage of their sentences than men: 25% compared with 10% for men.

That practice came under criticism last year by civil liberties groups and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, who said the differing scales raised equal-protection issues.

Sheriff Lee Baca, who is under federal orders to ease overcrowding in his jails, has released more than 200,000 inmates since mid-2002 after they had served just fractions of their county sentences.

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Whitmore said that under certain circumstances, Hilton could end up serving the majority of her jail term, although that is unlikely.

But even a shorter term, some legal experts said, would have an impact.

“Half the time in jail will still be a significant wake-up call for her,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School. “Twenty-four hours might be enough. Those minutes can seem like hours.”

Hilton says she will appeal Sauer’s sentence, which she considers too harsh. Also, Hilton’s supporters have asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pardon her.

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Asked Thursday if he would consider pardoning Hilton, Schwarzenegger replied: “I’ve never gotten a request, but I have many more important things to think about.”

andrew.blankstein @latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

Times staff writer Megan Garvey contributed to this report.

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