Paris Hilton smiles to cameras when released from LA jail

Paris Hilton left jail Tuesday after a bizarre, three-week stay in which the hotel heiress was briefly released to her Hollywood Hills home, then sent screaming and crying back to a county lockup.

Click here to see photos of Paris Hilton leaving LA county jail

The 26-year-old walked out of the all-women's jail in Lynwood to an enormous horde of cameras and reporters after midnight. She had largely avoided the spotlight when she checked into the jail late June 3 after a surprise appearance at the MTV Movie Awards.

Hilton smiled as she left the jail, her blond hair pulled back. Her parents, Kathy and Rick, met her in a black SUV as cameras snapped pictures and Hilton, wearing a gold blouse with white trim over a white shirt and black slacks, waved to the crowd.

She didn't say anything, and it wasn't immediately clear where she was going.

"She fulfilled her debt. She was obviously in good spirits. She thanked people as she left," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Hilton will complete her probation in March 2009 as long as she keeps her driver's license current and doesn't break any laws. She can reduce that time by 12 months if she does community service that could include a public-service announcement, the city attorney's office has said.

Hilton began her 45-day sentence for violating her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case. She was mostly confined to a solitary cell in the special needs unit away from the other 2,200 inmates.

She spent only three days there before she was released with electronic monitoring by Sheriff Lee Baca for an unspecified medical condition that he later said was psychological. The following day Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer, who sentenced the hotel heiress, called her back into court and ordered her returned to jail, saying he had not approved her release.

Hilton left the courtroom in tears calling for her mother and shouting, "It's not right!"

She was then taken to the downtown Twin Towers jail, which houses men and the county jail's medical treatment center, where she underwent medical and psychiatric exams to determine where she should be confined.

Hilton's stay there cost taxpayers US$1,109.78 (euro824.44) a day, more than 10 times the cost of housing inmates in the general population.

The move by Baca caused a firestorm of criticism over whether the celebrity was getting special treatment. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has launched an investigation into whether the multimillionaire received special treatment because of her wealth and fame.

At least one woman has filed a claim against the county alleging she "had serious medical issues" but was treated much worse than Hilton.

A few days into her stint at the Twin Towers medical ward, the heiress revealed in a phone call to Barbara Walters a new outlook on life.

"I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute," Hilton said during the call, according to an account posted June 11 by Walters on ABC's Web site.

"It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me," Hilton was quoted as saying.

Hilton's path to jail began Sept. 7, when she failed a sobriety test after police saw her weaving down a street in her Mercedes-Benz on what she said was a late-night run to a hamburger stand.

She pleaded no contest to reckless driving and was sentenced to 36 months' probation, alcohol education and US$1,500 in fines.

In the months that followed, she was stopped twice by officers who discovered her driving with a suspended license. The second stop landed her in Sauer's courtroom, where he sentenced her to jail.