LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hotel heiress Paris Hilton was let out of jail and put under house arrest on Thursday after serving three days of a three-week sentence, sparking a debate over whether fame worked for her or against her.
Officials said Hilton, 26, a symbol for many of the privilege and excesses of American celebrity culture, was released from jail for undisclosed medical reasons but was fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet to track her movements and ordered confined to her house for the next 40 days.
During a news conference, Steve Whitmore of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office declined to reveal the medical issue that led to her “reassignment” or say why she could not be treated in jail.
The syndicated TV show “Entertainment Tonight,” citing sources close to Hilton’s family, reported on its Web site that Hilton had developed a rash on her body, while celebrity Web site TMZ.com reported Hilton’s medical condition was psychological.
TMZ cited unidentified law enforcement sources as saying a psychiatrist who visited her in jail found she was in danger of a nervous breakdown.
Sheriff’s department spokesman Whitmore said only that Hilton’s incarceration was cut short after extensive consultation among various parties involved, including the sentencing judge and the sheriff.
Los Angeles County detention facilities, like many jails around the country, are known to have problems controlling outbreaks of staphylococcus infections, which can cause rashes. But Whitmore said staph was not an issue in Hilton’s case.
Hours after she left jail, Hilton released a statement thanking the sheriff’s department and the jail “for treating me fairly and professionally. I am going to serve the remaining 40 days of my sentence.”
By mid-morning, camera crews swarmed around Hilton’s house in the Hollywood Hills as broadcast pundits, legal experts and even New York-based civil rights activist and preacher Al Sharpton weighed in with reactions.
Local radio talk show hosts seized on Hilton’s early release as evidence of preferential treatment by because of her celebrity status, a point of view echoed by the head of the union representing county sheriff’s deputies.
“On any given day, a thousand female inmates are in custody,” said Steve Remige, president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. “Why is one case, out of the blue, treated any different than them?”
Sharpton said Hilton’s home confinement “gives all of the appearances of economic and racial favouritism that is constantly cited by poor people and people of colour.”
But New York civil liberties lawyer E. Christopher Murray said Hilton’s original 45-day jail term, initially shortened to 23 days under state sentencing guidelines, was “an example of a celebrity being treated more harshly than an average person.”
Hilton, star of reality television show “The Simple Life,” turned herself in on Sunday night to begin a jail term for violating her probation earlier this year in a drunken-driving case.
Earlier Sunday, the great-granddaughter of the founder of the Hilton Hotels empire had attended the MTV Movie Awards ceremony, where she was the butt of comedians’ jokes.
Under the home-confinement order, Hilton’s sentence was increased back to 45 days, but Whitmore said she would be credited with five days incarceration, including Sunday and Thursday, even though she only spent three full days in jail.
The exact terms of Hilton’s house arrest were not released.
One reporter at the press conference described Hilton’s job as going to parties and events and asked if she would be allowed to leave her home for work, just as lifestyle media star Martha Stewart could during her five months under house arrest for insider trading.
“My understanding is that she’s confined to her home with an ankle bracelet, she cannot leave that facility,” said Whitmore. “She will fulfil the remainder of her time confined to her home.”
Hilton was arrested on charges of drunken driving in September. In January, she pleaded no contest -- the equivalent of a guilty plea -- to a reduced charge of alcohol-related reckless driving. She was sentenced to three years’ probation and had her license suspended.
But she was caught driving on a suspended license in February, when police stopped her for speeding and with her headlights off at night. A traffic court judge in May rejected Hilton’s defence that she had been misinformed by her publicist about her license status, and he ruled that her latest infraction constituted a probation violation.
Hilton had been housed in a special unit for celebrities and high-profile inmates at the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, about 15 miles (24 km) from Los Angeles.
She had been incarcerated alone in her cell, an enclosure 8 feet (2.4 meters) wide, 12 feet (3.7 meters) deep and 8 feet (2.4 meters) high, equipped with two bunks, a sink, a small table, a slit window and a metal toilet.
(Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles)
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