Prison guards to wear body cameras at Souza

A police body camera similar to those worn by Boston Police. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
A police body camera. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

Correction officers at Massachusetts' beleaguered maximum security prison will soon wear body cameras.

The state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security announced the pilot program Thursday, saying the cameras will strengthen transparency and accountability at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center.

“Implementing this BWC (body-worn camera) pilot program reinforces our commitment to advancing the safety of correctional officers and those entrusted to their care," said Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy in a statement. "The program affords us the opportunity to explore how this technology can improve operational efficiency and enhance the value of transparency in our institutions."

How many Souza officers would wear the cameras and how many cameras would be utilized in the program has not been finalized. The existing stationary cameras at Souza will remain in place.

The camera program comes as the state faces two federal lawsuits alleging that Souza prisoners were beaten after an assault on correction officers in January 2020. One suit, filed by attorney Patty Dejuneas, alleges that the Department of Correction conspired to punish prisoners after the assault. The suit claims the DOC deliberately violated its own policies on video recordings, and that correction officers can avoid being recorded when acting improperly.

"Body cameras, if used properly, will help bridge the gap between policy and practice and provide valuable, objective evidence as to the cause of physical altercations between staff and prisoners," Dejuneas said "I expect that we will start to see a reduced number of those incidents as the pilot program gets underway."

Prisoners Legal Services of Massachusetts, which filed the other federal lawsuit over the 2020 violence at Souza, expressed some skepticism.

"The devil will be in the details," Jesse White with Prisoners Legal Services said in a statement. "As there will have to be accountability when officers fail to use the cameras contrary to policy, as they have done for handheld video recordings, and we will need to ensure that video recordings are made available quickly to incarcerated people who have been assaulted and injured."

The state says the pilot program to begin this summer has been under consideration for months. It will be done in two phases. The first will review the technology required and the second will involve implementing the cameras. The state says it will collect data from the program to determine its effectiveness. Gov. Charlie Baker allocated $1 million to fund one year of the program is in his current budget proposal.

Body cameras are worn by correction officers in about a half dozen other states.

This article was originally published on January 27, 2022.


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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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