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Appellate court upholds decision to stop live Web cams of Phoenix-area jail inmates


Associated Press Writer

PHOENIX (AP) – A federal appeals panel on Friday upheld a lower court’s decision to stop cameras from transmitting live video of Maricopa County Jail inmates to the Internet.

One of the judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the practice “constitutes a level of humiliation that almost anyone would regard as profoundly undesirable.”

The ruling came on an appeal by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who challenged a U.S. District Court judge’s decision to stop the cameras.

Judge Earl Carroll’s preliminary injunction in March 2003 prohibited the video feed until resolution of a lawsuit alleging the cameras violate 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection.

Twenty-four former inmates at Phoenix’s Madison Street Jail – which exclusively holds people awaiting trial – filed the lawsuit in May 2001 against Arpaio and Maricopa County, which includes the Phoenix area.

The inmates said the use of the jail cameras amounted to unconstitutional punishment of people who had not been convicted of a crime.

A call to Arpaio, who gained notoriety for putting inmates on chain gangs and issuing them striped uniforms and pink underwear, was not immediately returned Friday.

James Hamm, program director for Middle Ground Prison Reform, the group that filed the inmates’ lawsuit, said the ruling affirms all that the plaintiffs alleged.

“What happened to these people was that they were being displayed the same way zoo animals are,” Hamm said.

Three cameras fed live video of a men’s holding cell, a booking area and an incoming inmate patdown area on the sheriff’s Web site, and later, a crime Web site.

Judges Richard Paez and Marsha Berzon affirmed the lower court’s decision.

“Exposure to millions of complete strangers, not to mention friends, loved ones, co-workers and employers, as one is booked, fingerprinted, and generally processed as an arrestee, and as one sits, stands or lies in a holding cell, constitutes a level of humiliation that almost anyone would regard as profoundly undesirable and strive to avoid,” Paez wrote.

Judge Carlos Bea disagreed, saying the Web cams deterred crime and offered the public governmental transparency.

On the Net:

9th Circuit Court: http://www.ce9.uscourts.gov/

Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department: http://www.mcso.org/

Middle Ground Prison Reform: http://www.middlegroundprisonreform.org

AP-ES-08-06-04 2201EDT

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