Federal prisons are on the verge of having more cameras
Legislation by Senator Jon Ossoff (D-GA) to increase the number of cameras in federal prisons was passed by the US Senate without amendment by unanimous consent, which is rare in such a partisan environment. The bill forces the director of the Bureau of Prisons (BOP), currently Michael Carvajal, to fill in the gaps and make necessary upgrades to the security cameras and radio systems of the Bureau of Prisons to ensure health and safety employees and inmates.
The legislation, known as Penitentiary Camera Reform Act 2021, would require Carvajal to submit a report to Congress within 90 days detailing the shortcomings and a plan to implement the necessary camera upgrade. This would require upgrades within three years and annual progress reports to lawmakers.
While the BOP can accommodate cameras when it comes to staff safety, it will also highlight many issues in prisons. In the past, not all inmates who were victims of assaults on staff resulted in criminal actions. This is a problem presented by Eric Speirs, president of AFGE Local 501 in Miami (FDC Miami), who told me in an interview, “There have been more than 20 inmate assaults on staff here since January 2020 and none have been referred for criminal prosecution. Maybe more cameras could help with that.“
US Senator Dick Durbin issued a statement that “The health and safety of detainees and BOP staff must remain a top priority as we continue to push for criminal justice reform. Updating communication systems and security cameras in prisons is a step forward in keeping BOP facilities safe by deterring abuse and misconduct … by bringing our facilities into the 21st century while at the same time helping us achieve our goal of creating safer conditions for people in correctional facilities.“
Some of these cameras are meant to help reduce prison breakouts, which have happened quite often over the past 18 months. According to Denver Post Report, since January 2020, 29 inmates have escaped federal prisons, all minimum security camps. Half of these detainees have still not been arrested. Obsolete equipment or no cameras at all have been cited as contributing factors to failing to detect these escapes from minimum camps, where many do not even have fencing. However, the departure of detainees is not such a big concern because of the contraband entering prisons (mainly cell phones and drugs) which can create dangerous situations in the prison.
The cameras will give a glimpse of prison life to the outside world. Senator Ossoff said of the bill: “Newer cameras and communications equipment will help ensure safety, security and accountability in federal prisons for correctional officers and inmates.“
Cameras cannot be everywhere during incarceration. Inmates regularly go to doctor’s appointments in the community and some even have jobs in prison that require them to be in the community (city driver, construction work outside the prison, etc. ). In fact, thousands of minimum security inmates are confined to their homes under the CARES law, which has reduced part of the prison population to prevent contagion from COVID-19.
Technology has changed for camera security systems. In addition to having thermal imaging technology, camera systems can actually be combined with intelligent analysis software to provide warnings in certain situations, count individuals and assess situations. In this way, cameras can be a practical solution to reduce the ever increasing costs of incarceration.
We’ve got an eye on this one … and the stories that come out of it will be fascinating … telling.