Spectre of Paris Hilton hangs over Lindsay Lohan sentence


Many in Los Angeles law enforcement are hoping Lindsay Lohan is not the new Paris Hilton.

Lohan is due to surrender Tuesday to a Beverly Hills judge to begin her 90-day sentence in a Lynwood jail, but it remains unclear exactly how much time she will spend behind bars.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has not said exactly how long it plans to incarcerate Lohan, but authorities have said that it could amount to 25% of her sentence. Some speculate that it could be even less, given jail overcrowding and the relatively minor nature of Lohan’s probation violation on a drunk-driving arrest.

The situation puts the Sheriff’s Department in a tough position, coming three years after Hilton’s early release from jail created national headlines and ultimately resulted in the hotel heiress being shipped back to jail to finish hersentence.

“The sheriff and his department know they are going to be under the microscope. They know they are going to be vilified if people perceive she’s getting out early or is getting special treatment,” said Dmitry Gorin, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor.

Steve Whitmore, a Sheriff’s Department spokesman, said it is too early to know exactly how long Lohan will spend behind bars. While the department has guidelines about how much time nonviolent female inmatesserve, it is possible that the judge’s order will mandate a certain amount of time.

“We won’t know until the judge remands her into our custody and we see the judge’s written order,” he said. “That order could dictate what the Sheriff’s Department can do with Lohan. It could say no alternatives. No work release or involuntary electronic monitoring.”

The jail overcrowding problems are actually less than what they were when Hilton was in jail.

Between 2002 and 2006, more than 150,000 inmates walked free after serving a fraction of their sentences — many of them less than 10%. A 2006 Times investigation found that almost 16,000 inmates released early were rearrested while they were supposed to still be in jail. Sixteen were charged with murder.

In 2007, when Paris Hilton was sent to jail, female inmates convicted of the same type of offense typically served as little as 10% of their sentences, and some were immediately released.

The housing boom of the mid- to late-2000s helped fill the county’s coffers with property tax revenue, allowing the Sheriff’s Department to increase the length of jail stays for men to 80% of their jail times.

But in March, Sheriff Lee Baca announced that a new round of budget cuts gave him little choice but to step up early releases.

During the fluctuations in early releases, the Lynwood-based jail that Lindsay Lohan is expected to enter today is one at which jail managers have struggled to keep women behind bars longer. Today, female inmates who are sentenced for low-level offenses and do not have serious criminal histories generally serve 25% of their time.

Other factors play into how long someone remains incarcerated. An inmate who enrolls in a drug rehabilitation program in jail could end up serving a larger percentage of their sentence so that they can complete the course, Whitmore said.

To ease the space crunch, jail supervisors also have offered nonviolent inmates the chance to serve their sentences at home while wearing an electronic ankle bracelet. Other low-level inmates have been involuntarily placed on home detention to make room in the jails for more serious offenders.

A Beverly Hills judge earlier this month sentenced Lohan to jail, saying that she had repeatedly lied to authorities and failed to attend weekly alcohol education classes that the court required when she pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge in 2007.

Over the weekend, Lohan stayed in the Pickford Lofts, a sober living facility founded by her new attorney, Robert Shapiro, who lost his son to drugs and alcohol. However, on Monday evening, an L.A. County Sheriff’s Department official told The Times that Shapiro was no longer representing Lohan.

On Friday Shapiro had issued a statement saying that Lohan would comply with the judge’s directions.

“I have agreed to represent Ms. Lohan on the condition she comply with the terms of probation, including a requirement of jail, imposed by Judge Marsha Revel. Ms. Lohan is suffering from a disease that I am all too familiar with. Hopefully, I can be of assistance to Ms. Lohan and Judge Revel in implementing a treatment approach recommended by medical professionals for Ms. Lohan’s long term recovery and sobriety.”

Shapiro could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

Revel’s decision to put Lohan in jail was hailed by some as an example of Lohan finally being treated as an average defendant rather than a celebrity.

But experts said the reality might be more complex.

Stan Goldman, a Loyola Law School professor, said Lohan’s celebrity status clearly helped her get many second chances not given to other offenders in the court system. Goldman said she dodged probation violations for several years — her attorney managed to keep her out of jail despite her extended probation for failing to complete alcohol education classes in a timely manner.

“But now she faces jail, that celebrity may work against her. The sheriff’s may be tougher on her than most female in the jails,” he said.

Sheriff’s officials say that during her stay she will, as Hilton was, be isolated from the general population for her own safety and that that is usually the case with well-known people. The jail has housed in recent years Daryl Hannah, Khloe Kardashian and Nicole Richie.

Former L.A. prosecutor Gorin said “she is going to get special treatment in terms of jail housing. Her experience isn’t going to be that of a typical inmate.”

In the wake of Hilton’s time in jail, the union representing Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies complained that Hilton had free access to a cordless phone while other prisoners had to wait in line to use pay phones during set hours. Hilton also received daily visits from top brass at the Lynwood facility, including a captain who hand-delivered her mail. Letters are usually delivered by inmate trusties, the union said.

And officials were allegedly ordered to give her a new jail uniform while many inmates use recycled ones.

In December 2007, the Office of Independent Review issued a report that said that even though releasing Hilton to home detention was “extraordinary,” Baca had not violated policy in ordering her to be released.

The review also noted that Hilton’s release was not out of the ordinary because most female misdemeanor offenders serve only four days of their sentences.