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Impasse declared in talks over Mass. correction officers wearing body cameras

The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, photographed in 2017. (Elise Amendola/AP)
The Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Lancaster, Massachusetts, photographed in 2017. (Elise Amendola/AP)

The plan for Massachusetts correction officers to wear body cameras will move forward, despite hitting a snag with the union that represents the officers.

An impasse has been declared in negotiations with the correction officers' union over the rules for using the cameras. Despite the impasse, the state will move forward with making technological improvements for all officers to begin wearing the cameras by next year.

The state Department of Correction said a body camera pilot program last year proved that the cameras were a success and talks with the union will continue.

"Our administration is pleased with the results of the body-worn camera pilot program, which successfully improved the safety of incarcerated individuals and correction officers," a department spokesman said in a statement. "The Department of Correction is now working to implement this program statewide."

Officers at Souza Baranowski Correctional Center, the state's maximum security prison, are expected to be the first to wear the cameras, starting next month.

The union that represents the officers, the Massachusetts Correction Officers Federated Union, has not responded to requests for comment.

Last year, 50 correction officers at Souza began wearing the cameras as part of a pilot program. At the time, the state said the cameras would help improve safety and the transparency of prison operations.

After the pilot program ended, the state and the correction officers' union began negotiating the regulations for wearing the cameras and phasing in their use at other state prisons. The goal was to have correction officers in all state prisons wearing body cameras by July, 2024. The state has agreed to a five year, $15 million dollar contract with Axon Enterprises, Inc. for the cameras and storing the data from them.

The state is facing two lawsuits alleging brutality by correction officers at Souza after a January 2020 incident in which officers were assaulted in the prison. The lawsuits claim that special teams of officers from across Massachusetts were called to the prison, and beat and attacked Souza prisoners to punish them for assaulting the guards.

One of the lawsuits alleges that state prison officials helped plan the retaliation against prisoners. Documents  in that lawsuit suggest that federal officials are investigating the alleged retaliation.

Since the 2020 violence at Souza, the state Department of Correction said it has revised some of its policies to improve transparency and accountability in the state prison system.


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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