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Live Web Goes To Jail

It seems pink underwear, tent cells in the sweltering heat, and female chain gangs aren't enough to keep inmates in an Arizona jail under control.

Controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his eccentric ways of handling his prison population, wants everybody to see how his jail is run via 24-hour Webcams.

In coordination with, the Maricopa County Jail is Webcasting live images of pat-downs, bookings and lock-ups.

"We get people booked in for murder all the way down to prostitution," Arpaio, often referred to as "America's toughest sheriff," said Friday on CBS News' The Early Show. "When those johns are arrested, they can wave to their wives on the camera."

Four cameras - two inside the jail's main booking entrance, one at the search cell and one at the holding cell area - provide still images updated approximately every 10 seconds. They were installed for about $2,000 and began snapping the photos and providing uncensored views to the world on Monday.

But the displaying images from the four cameras on the Internet is drawing protests, and possible legal action, by some civil liberties groups.

"It is punishment by humiliation, where there are people who have been brought into the jail, they have been arrested but they have not had the benefit of a trial," Eleanor Eisenberg, executive director of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, said on The Early Show. "In this country...a judge or a jury gets to determine guilt and impose punishment."

Nevertheless, Arpaio said he has turned the cameras loose on the arrestees so those outside his jail can watch their tax dollars at work because "taxpayers deserve to see what goes on in the jail system."

"I'm tired of my officers being accused of behavior against inmates and everything else. So why not open the door?" Arpaio asked. "I have faith in my officers, and let the whole world see how we operate our jail system, which is about the fourth largest."

Arpaio is accustomed to controversy.

He has been criticized in the past for erecting a tent city on the hot Arizona desert and forcing inmates of his overcrowded jail system to live outdoors during a sweltering 1996 summer.

He also started the first chain gang for female inmates and forced prisoners to wear pink underwear. Studies have shown that the color pink helps control violent behavior and provides a soothing atmosphere within confined jail cells.

So why not try something new to help control crime, Arpaio asks?

"This is just really consistent with the process of humiliation and degradation that the sheriff seems to feel is effective," Eisenberg said. "But his own studies have shown that they are not effective in affecting recidivism or acting as a deterrent to crime."

But Arpaio said he's confident his Web site will act as a crime deterrent.

"I hope the kids can tune in and see what it's like in the jail. Maybe they'll larn something," he said.

Arpaio said his site has received 6 million Internet hits in the past four days. He said he has drawn people from Sweden, Britain and Germany to watch officers snap on rubber gloves and frisk incoming arrestees.

The sheriff also strongly defends his right to follow in the footsteps of the news media and "reality-based" law enforcement television shows like Cops.

"Everybody else is taking pictures of those suspects being chased by police," Arpaio said. "I don't see what the difference is when the people can see what is going on in our jail. The TV is there anyway. The newspapers get their pictures. They put the pictures all over the headlines. So what is the difference?"

But Eisenberg argued, however,"The media has a different First Amendment right and possibly responsibility other than that which the sheriff has."

"There are video cameras throughout the jail, as there are virtually in every prison and jail in America. The public's right to know is being served," she observed, adding, though, that whenever there's an issue of constitutional law or interest, there's a conflict of interest.

"The public's right to know in this situation is adequately covered, and people who have not been convicted of a crime ought not to be punished by humiliation," Eisenberg said.

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