RALEIGH — A court-appointed expert says North Carolina's Central Prison still has blind spots that are hidden from the view of new security cameras added last year following inmate abuse allegations.
New cameras and digital video recorders were installed after eight inmates sued in U.S. District Court alleging that guards beat prisoners in Unit One, a section of the prison known as "The Hole" where those cited for disciplinary infractions are held in solitary confinement. The inmates say they were shackled and handcuffed before being ushered from their cells to unmonitored areas where they were severely beaten.
The inmates' abuse claims are supported by medical records documenting blunt-force injuries that occurred while the prisoners were segregated from other inmates. They include broken bones, concussions and a shattered hip that left one prisoner using a wheelchair.
Officials at the N.C. Department of Public Safety deny any abuse, saying staff used the minimal amount of force required to deal with inmates characterized as the "worst of the worst" among the prison system's population. Still, the state agreed last year to add security cameras to cover the previously unmonitored areas.
A report with the court this week by former corrections administrator Eldon Vail says the new cameras still don't monitor all the blind spots where inmates say the abuse occurred. Vail also reported finding lenses so out-of-focus and smudged with grime that it was difficult to make out what the cameras were recording.
Vail, who served as corrections secretary for the state of Washington prior to becoming a consultant, listed several recommendations as part of his report, including a requirement that prison staff regularly clean the lenses and maintain the camera equipment.
Vail was appointed to review the prison's surveillance system by U.S. District Court Judge Terrence W. Boyle. In November, Boyle rejected efforts by the state to dismiss the inmates' lawsuit for lack of merit.
A spokeswoman for the department of public safety said she couldn't comment because of the pending lawsuit.