I worked within a judge’s office for six years and I know that the condemnation of Sheriff Lee Baca by media personalities and local and national activists for releasing Paris Hilton is unwarranted. Sheriff Baca did what most local Sheriffs in this country would have done. Across our nation sheriffs are faced with overcrowded jail facilities. The management of county jails and the safety of those incarcerated within are ultimately the sheriff’s responsibility. Should something happen within a jail, it is the Sheriff, not a judge, that will be contacted no matter where he is, what he is doing, or what time of day it is. Every judge knows this and thus judges allow Sheriffs to make reasonable and prudent decisions regarding inmates or management issues within their jails.
Paris Hilton did not receive special treatment. As Sheriff Lee Baca eloquently pointed out, the district attorney is getting special treatment. Judges routinely decide to give defendants lesser sentences than those sentences recommended by district attorneys. District attorneys behave like apathetic robots. If judges gave district attorneys everything they wanted the population in all jails would triple. Electronic monitoring devices exist solely for the purpose of alleviating overcrowded jails. These devices are paid for by taxpayers’ money. However, the devices are also intended to save taxpayer money by allowing probation violators to serve on house arrest and thereby save the county from having to house, feed, and provide them medical care, especially those probation violators who are not a flight risk or a threat to society. Paris Hilton is neither and is an ideal candidate for the program. Electronic monitoring equipment is not cheap and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to sit in storage and collect dust. The Sheriff realizes this and this perhaps had some influence on his decision. Moreover, spending taxpayer money to house, feed, and provide medical care to Paris Hilton is a gross waste of taxpayer money.
As I listened to media personalities question members of the public about the incident many proclaimed Paris was getting special treatment because she is White and because she is rich. It was reported that self proclaimed activist Najee Ali and the Rev. Al Sharpton were considering demonstrating outside of her home. These individuals are apparently unknowledgeable as to how the system works. African Americans and Latinos do get awarded house arrest if they meet the criteria. In most counties the criteria include: the offense must be a first offense, the offense must be non-violent, the inmate has to be gainfully employed and/or attending school, the inmate has to agree not to tamper with any portion of the electronic monitoring equipment, and the head of the residence where he or she will be serving house arrest must not object. Sadly, the latter requirement eliminates many people from consideration because although many offenders are adults they still reside with their parents.
When I was employed within the judge’s office I fielded calls from parents who adamantly opposed their son or daughter being released to serve on house arrest. A mother once said to me, “Mr. Smith, my son curses me out all the time. I have two other children and I don’t want them to grow up cursing me out too. I love my child but he needs to stay in jail. At least I know where he is. He rips and runs the street so much half the time I don’t know where he is.” One mother said to me, “Mr. Smith, my son walks around with his pants sagging all the time. He dropped out of school and won’t get a job. I preach and preach but he won’t listen. Since he acts like he is in jail, he needs to stay in jail.” Responses such as this were far too common. Offenders who alienate their loved ones have to endure entire jail sentences. That is not the fault of the system. It was our policy not to tell inmates that they failed to meet criteria for electronic monitoring because someone from their residence objected. We didn’t want an offender to be agitated with his or her parents.
Media personalities reported that the judge was visibly agitated. If in fact he was this was improper. A judge is not supposed to allow his emotions to affect a decision. He is supposed to be impartial at all times. As Sheriff Lee Baca maintained a calm disposition when he addressed the media’s questions about Paris Hilton’s release so too was the judge supposed to maintain a calm disposition on and off the bench. Judges are not supposed to be affected by public outcry because quite frankly the public are lay people and are unaware of the specifics regarding court operations and jail operations.
Sheriff Baca does know the specifics regarding operations of both and his reasoning for releasing Paris Hilton was reasonable and fell within normal operating procedures. Moreover, he has major responsibilities and doesn’t need to be bothered with media vans parked outside a jail trying to capture pictures of someone who shouldn’t be in jail. Just like judges require order in the courtroom Sheriffs require order in and outside of their jails. Had either the judge or district attorney in the Paris Hilton case been acting Sheriff, they too would have made the same reasonable and prudent decision that Sheriff Lee Baca made.
Members of the public, media personalities, and activists who are wasting energy attacking Sheriff Lee Baca should seek other causes to champion. Perhaps they should launch a campaign aimed at adults who are still residing at home with parents and are alienating and embarrassing those parents by being disrespectful, disobedient, refusing to receive an education, refusing to secure employment, and engaging in criminal behaviors.