More Calif. COs to wear body cameras through new oversight measures

The state budget includes $90.6 million in funds aimed at installing fixed security and body-worn cameras at five facilities


By Andrew Sheeler
The Sacramento Bee
        
SACRAMENTO — California prisons are preparing to require more correctional officers to wear body cameras through an expansion of employee oversight programs funded in the state budget Gov. Gavin Newsom signed earlier this month.

The budget includes $90.6 million in funds aimed at installing fixed security and body-worn cameras at five state facilities — Kern Valley State Prison; California Institution for Women; California State Prison, Corcoran; Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran; and California State Prison, Los Angeles.

That funding is intended to bring the state into compliance with a court order in the case of Armstrong v. Newsom, where several disabled inmates at a San Diego County prison alleged that they were victims of brutality at the hands of corrections officers.

A correctional officer walks near one of two entrances into Kern Valley State Prison, in Delano, Calif.
A correctional officer walks near one of two entrances into Kern Valley State Prison, in Delano, Calif. (AP Photo/Ric Francis)

While the court order originally only applied to the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, in March the court expanded the mandate to the additional five prisons.

One 47-year-old inmate had a seizure outside his cell at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. He later woke up to find that his wrists and ankles hurt badly. He alleged in his complaint that officers had stomped on his ankles and stepped on his hands before dragging him out of his cell. As they dragged him, his head hit the ground several times, according to the complaint.

Cameras could have been used to prove or disprove inmate complaints like the one described in the lawsuit.

Corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said the agency "is fully committed to transparency and accountability, and we want to thank the administration and the Legislature for funding the expansion of body worn and fixed cameras in various institutions."

The state budget also includes $8 million to expand a new internal complaint inquiry process so that it encompasses all use of force allegations against staff.

The Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation launched the new internal investigation system in 2019 at a cost of $10 million aiming to standardize disciplinary decisions across the state's 35 prisons.

In February, the Office of Inspector General reported wardens were reluctant to use it.

The oversight office found that between April 1, 2020, and Aug. 31, 2020, incarcerated people filed more than 50,400 grievances. Of those, prison wardens determined that 2,339 alleged staff misconduct.

However, wardens referred just 541 of those allegations to the statewide system.

The new budget also calls for the department to establish a centralized screening process for staff misconduct allegations "as opposed to each institution independently performing this function, which will help to create greater consistency in the handling of staff complaints."

Corrections department spokeswoman Waters said the cameras and new programs "promote safety and enhance security within prisons. Cameras are not only deterrents of illicit activity or misconduct, they can help with the ability to conduct after-the-fact reviews and investigations of incidents."
     
(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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