SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- When female guards in an Arizona jail

complained that male inmates were taunting them with magazine

centerfolds, its famously tough sheriff banned all nude pictures --

from Hustler to art books.

On Tuesday, the Maricopa County policy, described by the

county's lawyer as the probably the strictest in the nation, was

upheld by a divided 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a 7-4 ruling, the court said a prohibition on pictures of

frontal nudity was a reasonable measure to stop sexual harassment

and improve security, and didn't violate free expression.

Dissenters said a ban that included Michelangelo as well as Larry

Flynt was too broad and had little to do with sexual harassment.

Daniel P. Struck, a lawyer for the county and Sheriff Joseph

Arpaio, said the ruling would "set the standard as to what's

allowable by prisons and jails in the country."

Arpaio has earned the nickname "America's toughest sheriff" --

and criticism from civil libertarians and the Justice Department --

for such highly publicized moves as banning coffee and cigarettes,

housing inmates in tents and dispatching inmates, even female

inmates, in old-style chain gangs to cut weeds.

His jail system has

6,500 inmates serving sentences or awaiting trial, making it one of

the largest in the country.

The ban, imposed by Arpaio in 1993, extends to photos and

drawings of frontal nudity. A lawsuit was filed in 1995 by Jonathan

Mauro, an imate who was denied a copy of Playboy magazine while

awaiting trial.

U.S. District Judge Robert Broomfield ruled in favor of the

county, but the ruling was overturned in July 1998 by a three-judge

appellate panel, which said the ban could be justified only if the

county showed that any type of nude picture in jail was likely to

cause problems. But a majority of the entire court voted to rehear

the case before a larger panel.

In Tuesday's ruling, Judge Thomas Nelson said the sheriff was

entitled to take reasonable steps to protect guards, even if some

innocent material also was covered by the ban. He said there was a

clear relationship between the possession of sexually explicit

materials and sexual harassment.

In a dissent, Judge Andrew Kleinfeld there was evidence that the

real purpose of the ban was to punish inmates, many of whom have

not been convicted of crimes. He cited Arpaio's 1995 interview with

Penthouse in which the sheriff said, "when you go to jail you

should have to give up certain things. ... Jail means punishment."

Nicholas Hentoff, Mauro's lawyer, could not be reached for

comment after Tuesday's ruling. Repeated calls to him were answered

by a message saying his voice mail system was full.