Corrections officers stands on duty without a body-worn camera.
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May 31, 2018
    Article highlights
  • The benefits of body-worn cameras in corrections.
  • Best practices for body-worn camera policy in corrections.

The use of body-worn cameras has become increasingly common in law enforcement agencies.

In a 2015 survey, more than 90% of respondents said their agency either had a body-worn camera program or were piloting a program.

Based on recent trends, it’s safe to estimate that 80% of all police officers will be wired for video within the next three years.

But body-worn cameras (BWCs) aren’t exclusively for law enforcement. They are also becoming an effective part of correctional operations.

The corrections industry has relied on technology, including body alarms, surveillance cameras, and locating devices, for decades.

Body-worn cameras are one more technology facilities can use to help resolve complaints, increase accountability, and keep officers and inmates safe.

In 2016, the Atlanta Department of Corrections became the first detention facility to implement BWCs.

At a Correctional Accreditation Managers Association conference hosted by Atlanta DOC, they demonstrated how control officers and supervisors can now watch live interactions with inmates and quickly respond to serious incidents.

Atlanta is not the only area implementing body-worn cameras in corrections.

Seven prisons in Nevada are equipping officers with BWCs to wear during high-risk events. And Bureau of Justice Assistance recently awarded the sheriff's department in Tulare County, California, a grant for $100,000 to purchase body-worn cameras for correctional deputies.

“Once inmates notice we have body cams, they are less likely to be violent,” said a captain from the Tulare County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s a win-win for staff as well as the community.”

The Benefits of Body-Worn Cameras in Corrections

Studies have shown that using body-worn cameras in law enforcement can increase police accountability and decrease citizen complaints.

Many of the benefits of BWCs in policing can carry over to corrections.

Increased accountability, transparency, and safety

A recent study found that officers with body-worn cameras used force 60% less often.

It’s safe to say that BWCs could have a similar effect in corrections.

While police officers do their work in view of the public eye, correctional officers' work is less public. If a deputy is abusing his or her power, inmates can’t whip out smartphones to take video.

This makes officer integrity especially important in corrections, where officers are working with difficult, dangerous populations.

Body-worn cameras show that officers have nothing to hide. This is not about over-monitoring correctional officers.

Body-worn cameras can also help keep them safe and protect them in the event of an inmate complaint.

Correction officer talks with an inmate.

As William Daly points out in an article for CorrectionsOne:

“Transparency and accountability of already steadfast staff, with the addition of body camera audio and video, will make our work environments safer for everyone – most importantly, staff.”

Limited liability and fewer false accusations

In the event of an incident, body-worn cameras give video evidence of what actually happened.

If an inmate makes a claim against an officer, BWC footage can clear the matter up before it turns into a lawsuit. Daly argues that body-worn cameras can help corrections departments stay out of court:

”We can use this technology to help mitigate false accusations and avoid lengthy and costly litigation by those in our custody. A typical day for us can transform into a perilous situation very quickly.

”I ask the question; why not use the ‘CERTS breath mint’ distance (otherwise known as the bad breath test) of audio and video to ascertain from an up close and personal position what was truly said and done, and what these devices proffer to assist in our daily duties?”

Best Practices for Body-Worn Camera Policy in Corrections

Building an effective BWC program starts with creating comprehensive policies and training.

Correctional officers need to be absolutely clear about how and when to use BWCs.

Here are some things departments should consider when creating balanced policies for body-worn cameras in corrections:

Balance the interests of both officers and inmates

In law enforcement, much of the conversation about body-worn camera policy centers around privacy concerns.

Privacy rights are not as much of an issue in corrections, because courts have ruled that the 1st and 4th Amendments are limited inside correctional facilities.

In other words, inmates do not have the same privacy rights as average citizens. They don’t have a reasonable expectation of privacy, and they are not protected from searches and seizures.

However, correctional facilities still have a responsibility to care for inmates. And prisoners still have some constitutional rights.

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For example, the 8th Amendment protects inmates from “cruel and unusual punishment,” which can include inhumane treatment or “a violation of a person's basic dignity.”

Constant surveillance may not constitute cruel and unusual punishment. But it can be degrading, especially in vulnerable situations like showers or strip searches.

Therefore, departments should consider the interests of both officers and inmates while crafting body-worn camera policy.

Body-worn camera policy in corrections must address exactly when officers are required to activate cameras and when they should turn them off.

The policies should also specify what parts of videos should be redacted to protect the privacy of both inmates and officers.

Consult with experts to help develop the policy

Corrections agencies don’t have to go it alone when creating a body-worn camera program.

Legal consultants and subject matter experts can help agencies create comprehensive, effective policies that protect both officers and inmates.

For example, when the leaders at Parker Police Department were creating their body-worn camera program, they consulted with other agencies and gathered information from research studies. They also reached out to experts from the DA’s office and the ACLU.

Corrections officer in silhouette.

Again, corrections agencies face different challenges with BWCs than law enforcement agencies. But they could still benefit from the insights from agencies that have already implemented BWCs.

And experts from organizations such as the ACLU can help ensure that BWC policies are lawful, ethical, and respectful of inmates’ rights.

Develop a comprehensive training program

Body-worn cameras will not do any good if officers don’t know how or when to use them.

After creating body-worn camera policies, corrections agencies should develop a comprehensive training schedule. This will ensure that every officer receives thorough training before using body-worn cameras.

Training should cover every aspect of the BWC policy and use – from how to operate the cameras to how to tag and store video footage.

It’s not enough to just train officers during program implementation. Departments should require retraining on BWC operations and policy at least annually.

A training management software tool like PowerDMS can help streamline training and retraining. It can also track signatures to ensure that every staff member reads BWC policies.

In order to get officers to buy-in to a new body-worn camera program, corrections agencies should emphasize the benefits and objectives of BWCs during the training process.

They should remain open to officer questions and concerns throughout training.

Inmates being led with shackles.

Continually improve policies

No policy is perfect. And even effective policies have to be updated as technology changes and agencies grow and adapt.

Body-worn camera use in corrections is a relatively recent phenomenon. So as agencies implement BWC programs, they should constantly re-examine and adjust policies.

Every department and facility has different needs. So administrators should take into account officer feedback, lessons from real-world application, and the changing needs of the organization.

Body-worn cameras have the potential to be tremendously beneficial in corrections.

As you seek to create a BWC program for your agency, be sure to consult with experts, create consistent training, and regularly review your policy.

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