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It’s True Celebrities Receive Special Treatment Behind Bars: But Not for the Reasons You Think

Brian J Smith Aug. 3, 2014

It seems like every month a new celebrity is in the news for getting arrested. Whether it’s for a DUI or disorderly conduct, celebrities have a long history with the prison system. While many “normal” offenders serve sentences in maximum security penitentiaries, it’s common to hear about a celebrity spending their jail sentence in a low security, white collar prison. To help understand why famous people seem to get the celebrity treatment when convicted of a crime, Las Vegas criminal lawyer Brian J. Smith offers his thoughts on a couple of famous inmates’ situations, as well as why fame alone doesn’t guarantee an easy stay behind bars.

OJ Simpson may have had a private jail cell, but it was for security reasons and not because he was famous.

Photo courtesy of Charles LeBlanc

Former NFL football player OJ Simpson is currently serving an armed robbery sentence at a state penitentiary in Nevada. During his first months in prison, Simpson was separated from the other prisoners. Some have viewed this as a celebrity perk, but Brian J. Smith believes that celebrities like Simpson aren’t separated because they are famous, but rather “they’re separated for their own protection.” He also states that celebrities often might appear to receive lush treatment because of the type of crime committed. “If it’s a white collar offense, they might go to a different institution than somebody who robbed a bank. It’s non-violent crimes vs violent-crimes.”

OJ has a TV in his cell! Isn’t that ‘special treatment’? Brian J. Smith Says “not quite”

Another topic the press has pounced on is the fact that OJ Simpson has a TV in his cell. Smith points out privileges like these are likely not a result of his fame but rather the cash in his pocket. “Any inmate who has money is in better shape than an inmate who has no money. Because the money can be used to buy television sets and commissary items…all kinds of things. And it will make life a great deal more comfortable.”Smith also spoke about the pros and cons of being a celebrity in prison. “OJ Simpson is currently in the Nevada State prison system, way up North in Ely. OJ certainly still has some assets…His life might be a little more comfortable than someone who has no money, but it really doesn’t have a great deal to do with being a celebrity. Celebrity status could also make someone a target. It’s a two way street. Some young guy could decide he wants to be the guy who took a swing at the famous OJ Simpson, the football great.”

Martha Stewart may have served time in a low-security prison, but so do most non-violent, first time offenders. Her celebrity status likely had nothing to do with it.

After being accused of insider trading, home expert Martha Stewart was sentenced to five months in jail. While in jail, Stewart enjoyed yoga classes, as well as access to e-mail and television; privileges some attribute to her star status. Smith claims, however, that Stewart received this treatment not as a result of her celebrity status, but because of the type of crime she committed. “That is not based on celebrity status, that was based the type of conviction. Her case was essentially a tax fraud case. It was not a crime of violence, it was not drug trafficking…It was a white collar offense.”

The truth is, rich or poor, celebrity or not, prison is still prison. It robs people of their freedom and most would agree it’s not a place they’d ever want to be. Luckily, a good lawyer can help. If you or a loved one is in need of legal advice, contact the Las Vegas criminal lawyer Brian J. Smith today at (702) 380-8248.