70 minutes in jail: 'VIP treatment' for CA senator convicted on 8 felony counts

70 minutes in jail: 'VIP treatment' for CA senator convicted on 8 felony counts
Eight felony counts, including voting fraud and perjury, should have landed a Democrat senator in jail for 90 days. Instead he received a slap on the wrist – being released from the jail without seeing as much as the inside of a cell.

State senator Roderick Wright turned himself in on late one Friday evening and released 70 minutes later after being processed and booked, according to Nicole Nishida, the spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Nishida said Wright did not get any special treatment and his release came through a formula which counted the non-violent nature of his crime, the lack of previous offences – and the fact that jails are overcrowded.

“A lot of people are not serving 100 percent of their time because of overcrowding,” Nishida told the Sacramento Bee.

Wright, who served 12 years in the Legislature, was first convicted for lying about his home address four years ago, when he ran for office in the Inglewood district, while actually living in Baldwin Hills. This is against California state law, which stipulates that candidates can only run for office in their district of residence.

He was also convicted on five counts of fraudulent voting in five separate elections. Wright was again convicted in January.

He initially faced a hefty eight years in prison – a sentence which changed abruptly in September, when the judge reduced his sentence to 90 days and a lifetime ban on holding public office.

Prison officials cite overcrowding as the biggest problem, with the state’s prisons overflowing with inmates held for minor convictions. This led to changes in prison policy that many have been asking for – that people with no prior convictions, especially nonviolent offenders, are released.

AFP Photo / Justin Sullivan

However, this release might get across to Californians as yet another VIP issue.

“When there is a high profile person … and we know they serve an infinitesimal fraction of their sentence, it really hits home for us. It is a minor part of a bigger discussion about what overcrowding means, and the supply and demand of prisons,” said Jessica Levinso, professor of political law at Loyola Law School.

“But a lot of people will get from that: ‘I always knew Rod Wright was never really going to serve, because he is a VIP and would get special treatment.’”

Wright’s attorney Kevin McKesson believes the outcome is completely fair, because “the jails should be reserved for people who are dangerous to society. Senator Wright presents no danger to society. In fact, he is an asset to society.”

He said he will also be pushing for a full pardon, arguing that Wright had taken care of all the legal requirements to make the address change to Inglewood, but was instead condemned by the judge for disrespecting the law.

Wright still has 1,500 hours of community service and three years’ probation ahead of him under the terms of his conviction, which his attorney wishes to appeal.

A new person will fill his senate seat to serve the remainder of Wright’s term after a special election is held Dec. 9.