[The O.J. treatment] Separate, but not equal

Lightweight duty for derelict stars in jail

Damon Hodge

We’ve seen it with perennial arrestee Robert Downey Jr. being let out of jail to do a movie, with celebu-lushes (Paris, Lindsay, Nicole) given over-before-you-know-it jail stints and with alleged memorabilia bandit O.J. Simpson’s special accommodations (lone cell) during his brief stays at the county jail: rich, famous or infamous, you can reduce the long arm of the law to a nub.

“We didn’t put him [O.J.] in the same cell as we would a normal inmate,” Metro spokesman Martin Wright explains. “When he goes on his break, it’s only after everyone’s had theirs. Arrangements are made not because it’s O.J. Simpson. We take precautions with someone famous or high-profile because we don’t want them to get hurt.”

Must be nice, considering.

The intake process is standard for all new county jail residents: booked, fingerprinted and photographed. Same clothing, same meals, follow the same rules is how Capt. Herbert Baker, who covers the South Tower bureau of the Clark County Detention Center, puts it. Any special treatment is meant to protect high-profile inmates.

“We don’t make public announcements about who we have. If the information gets out in the media, then it’s out there and we have to protect them.” Baker says. “There’s no threshold as to who is high-profile. Professional fighters are protected because someone might try to test them. Rich inmates because other inmates might coerce them to put money on their books. Someone who has killed multiple people, or a child molester, we’ll segregate them. We might add additional security for transporting them to court.”

What about putting them to work?

“Most of the high-profile folks usually have high-profile charges and usually go to prison if convicted,” Baker says. “But if the inmate is sentenced to the county, the inmate can potentially become an inmate worker.”

Jobs vary. In the kitchen or laundry room—24 star Kiefer Sutherland gigged in both places during his 48 days (served in Glendale’s city jail rather than the dangerous LA County jail, so un-Jack Bauer) on DUI charges. Responsible inmates can be assigned janitorial duties over entire units—the jail has four—cleaning free-time areas, shower stalls and the recreation yard. Or work on landscape crews that spruce up at places like Horsemen’s Park.

Gimpy-kneed O.J., scooping horse poop! That’d be make a lot of people happy. Not that it will happen. Says Baker, “We’d have to factor in the risk to them versus our ability to protect them.”

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