About 50 corrections officers are now wearing body cameras as they go about their regular duties at the maximum-security Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, part of a pilot program that could lead to greater use of the devices across the Department of Correction.
When the pilot program was first announced in January, Executive Office of Public Safety and Security officials said it would start in the summer. But DOC said Monday that training for the officers in the pilot at the Shirley prison began Oct. 25 and that the cameras are now in use. The pilot program is meant to “enhance communication and collaboration” among DOC staff, support better interactions between inmates and corrections officers, and bolster transparency and accountability at DOC facilities.
“We look forward to evaluating the [body-worn camera] pilot program to determine appropriate next steps for our department. The use of this advanced technology in correctional settings has been shown to improve safety, provide valuable documentation for evidentiary purposes, resolve officer-involved incidents, and offer a useful training tool for the department and its officers,” DOC Commissioner Carol Mici said.
The first phase of the pilot will include an assessment of what technology a DOC facility will need to support body cameras and of which style of body camera would be best suited to a DOC environment and the types of interactions that corrections officers have with inmates. The second phase will focus on “operational implementation,” DOC said. The program will be funded through $1 million included in the fiscal 2023 budget.
The state’s recent policing reform law emphasized greater use of body cameras by law enforcement, and the treatment of people incarcerated at Souza-Baranowski has been called into question recently by Prisoners Legal Services, which earlier this year filed a class-action suit on behalf of more than 100 inmates alleging “chronic misuse of force by correction officers.” Last year, the Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team looked at the Shirley prison and found “a chilling picture, bristling with hard questions about the proper limits of prison administration, about a wave of alleged assaults and abuses, about regulations unenforced, and about the rights of those confined to prison.”
Also Monday, EOPSS announced that it had awarded nearly $2.5 million in grant funding for 32 municipal police departments around Massachusetts to increase the number of officers outfitted with a body camera. The Baker administration awarded $4 million in grants last year to help implement or expand local police body camera programs as part of a 5-year, $20 million investment in the technology.
EOPSS said that every department that applied for this round of grant funding received at least some money. Twenty-seven of the departments will use the money to introduce a new body camera program and five will use the state grant to expand their existing programs.
“The investment we’re making in these programs today will help create safer communities for years to come,” Governor Charlie Baker said.
State officials have previously said that 10 percent of municipal police departments in Massachusetts have a body-worn camera program in operation, and a survey conducted by the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association found that 75 percent of departments in both major cities and smaller towns are interested in starting a program.