Listening In: Paris and the Pokey

The Paris Hilton saga continues. The 26-year-old heiress, who was sentenced to 45 days in jail last month for violating her probation on a previous alcohol-related conviction, turned herself in to a Los Angeles county jail earlier this week, only to be released three days later. The sheriff's office announced Thursday morning that Hilton would be finishing the rest of her sentence under house arrest due to an undisclosed medical condition. But the bizarre case didn't end there. Yesterday, the city attorney's office filed a motion for another hearting (scheduled for 9 a.m. PT Friday) to put Paris back in jail. While we wait for the new decision, NEWSWEEK's Ramin Setoodeh and Joshua Alston discussed what it is about the Paris Hilton case that captures the public's attention.The latest installment of Listening In, a periodic online conversation among NEWSWEEK reporters and editors.

Setoodeh: Did you hear the breaking news?! Is the world ending??? Ah, on second thought, scratch that. Paris might be going back to jail. The next hearing is just mere minutes away (Update: Paris intended to testify over the phone, but the judge has now ordered that she show up in person. By the time she gets dressed and arrives at the courthouse, she'll be very late.) I know that some people say they could not care less, but I—like most of the blogosphere—am really disturbed that she got out in the first place. This isn't just a story about another celebrity behaving badly anymore. It's an illustration of how fame and riches can buy you a ticket out of jail.

Alston: Yeah. But isn't that an old illustration? I mean, if it were a literal illustration, and not a figurative illustration, it would be all faded and yellowed by now, you know, assuming someone hadn't framed it.

Setoodeh: Yes, perhaps. O.J. got out, but then again, we didn't know that he did it—at least until he wrote "If I Did It." In Paris's case, the judge ordered her to 45 days in jail. He made sure there were no loopholes for her to get out early. Jail overcrowding is one thing, but that's not the reason she was sent home. We still don't know what happened exactly, but as far as I can tell, the sheriff's office released her due to a "psychological" problem. The message this sends: if you're a celebrity heiress and you don't like jail, you can go home. Do we even need to wonder what would've happened in the same situation if Paris was a poor minority woman with the same sentence? She'd still be in jail right now.

Alston: All excellent points, all totally valid, but who cares? This story is getting attention because Paris is the embodiment of everything people hate about wealth and celebrity, so they want to see her suffer a little. But let's say she did finish out her sentence. What would it prove? What effect would it have on the inequities of our justice system? What would be accomplished?

Setoodeh: I think you're missing the point. She has to go back to jail. In our democracy, we're all supposed to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Giving Paris Hilton special treatment because she's a celebrity and then saying, "Who cares!? She's just a celebrity" is on par to not voting for the president, because a single vote can't count. The system might not be perfect, but we have to try to make it work. Otherwise, what's the point of a democracy anyway? That's why I'm on the send-her-back-to-jail side of the debate. Also, I refuse to shell out $20 for a FREE PARIS T shirt.

Alston: It's not that I'm on the don't-send-her-back-to-jail side of the debate, I'm just on the "Who cares?" side. Granted, she was driving under the influence, which could have had very serious consequences for innocent people, but there were none. She drove on a suspended license, and that's why she's getting the book thrown at her. Neither of these transgressions are so worthy of my rage that I'm angry at her release. If she serves 45 days, fine, if not, that's fine, too. I just don't think it makes a difference in the world or demonstrates that our justice system works either way. By the way, you can always borrow my FREE PARIS T shirt, but you're much smaller than me, so you'll have to cinch it.

Setoodeh: Thanks, but no thanks. You're not tricking me into switching my thoughts on this case so easily! Let's talk about some of the bizarre details. Why do you think the sheriff's office let her go? The rumors have been all over the place—from her not eating to a rash. But no matter what it was, I don't understand why they couldn't have just checked her in to the jail's hospital and taken care of the situation on the premises.

Alston: There's definitely something odd about that, and it should be looked into. I'm sure there are plenty of other sick people in that jail who would be more than happy to serve out their sentences in Paris's mansion. There's no reason to have let her go for medical reasons. Or for overcrowding reasons either, for that matter. It's not as though she takes up a lot of space.

Setoodeh: One train of thought is that she bugged the prison guards so much, they wanted to get rid of her. But I don't buy it. These people deal with hardened criminals every day. You can't tell me that Paris proved more of a burden than the average jailbird who doesn't follow any rules. We've all seen "The Simple Life." Paris can be annoying. but not that annoying.

Alston: I'd sooner believe that she just bribed them. Theoretically, it wouldn't be all that difficult for her to promise someone she would pay them if she were let out. Her sentence is short enough to make good on such a promise in a very short period of time. Just sayin'.

Setoodeh: Now you're starting to sound like Rosie O'Donnell on "The View" with your conspiracy theories. Predictions on the new ruling? I think the judge will send her back to jail, which will only cause this media circus to grow. Remember, she'll only have to serve half her sentence anyway (due to overcrowding). So the countdown will begin for when Paris is finally released (20, 19, 18 ...) to be reunited with her beloved family: Tinkerbell.

Alston: I think the judge will openly weep and attempt to parlay that into his own syndicated court show, à la Larry Seidlin from the Anna Nicole Smith case. Or he'll just send her back to jail. Hopefully, both.