After serving a court-ordered sentence of 90-days in drug rehab at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, Lindsay Lohan has been released on supervised probation pending a February 25th court hearing. If she remains orderly and sober until then, her probation could be lifted, but any more violations could result in more jail time for the 24-year-old star of “Freaky Friday,” “Mean Girls,” and “The Parent Trap.” Though if her previous jail terms are any indication, she isn’t likely to spend very much time behind bars.
Lohan’s court-ordered rehab at the Betty Ford Center has been only the most recent chapter of a truly dizzying legal drama. In May of 2010, she was ordered to attend alcohol education classes, wear an alcohol-monitoring device, and submit to random drug-tests to remain free on bail after missing a progress hearing related to her three-year probation for a DUI and cocaine use in 2007. In July, the judge determined Lohan had violated these terms and sentenced her to 90 days in jail, of which she served 14. By September, Lohan had failed one of her mandatory drug tests and was sent back to jail on September 24th, but released that same day on bail. She voluntarily entered Betty Ford a few days later, where the judge ordered her to remain for 90 days.
As Lindsay Lohan walks free today after years of drug and alcohol crimes, missed court hearings, and multiple violations of her probation, we would be amiss not to ask whether a poor, black man would receive the same treatment and leniency that California’s justice system has afforded to Lindsay Lohan, a rich, white woman. It’s not “playing the race card” if the system is truly racist. Gender too, could have a strong role to play in the apparent discrepancy between the treatment of Lindsay Lohan (who spent 84 minutes in jail for her 2007 offense) and a man who was sentenced to life in jail under California’s Three Strikes policy for stealing a $2.50 pair of socks.
Multiple studies and reports have indicated a strong pattern of disparate sentencing for each of the following alternatives: black vs. white convicts, male vs. female convicts, and very low income vs. higher income convicts. This includes a 2001 University of Georgia study entitled “Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Disparities in Sentencing: Evidence from the US Federal Courts.” While controlling for multiple demographic factors and comparing only sentences between convicts who committed the same crime, the study found that women receive lighter penalties than men, those earning more than $10,000 annually receive significantly lighter penalties than those making less, and whites receive lighter penalties than blacks, especially for drug crimes, where blacks received 13.7% longer sentences.
After each of Lindsay Lohan’s short stints in California’s prison system, justice officials were cited by media as attributing her short incarcerations to prison overcrowding and early release policies for non-violent offenders. Objective, non-demographic criteria such as non-violent offenses are certainly a good place to start when triaging jail space, but it is incumbent upon the State of California to make sure that it is truly these criteria that inform prison and public safety policy, not demographic prejudices in favor of wealthy, white actresses. It’s hard to say this is the case when Lindsay Lohan gets as many “second chances” as she does and poor, black men get Three Strikes.