Judge backs prison hand-held camera requirement

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — A federal judge agreed Thursday with an outside expert who recommends that North Carolina Central Prison staffers should use hand-held cameras to record how some prisoners are treated by guards after force is used to subdue the inmates.

U.S. District Court Judge Terrence Boyle signed an order related to a lawsuit by prisoners alleging they had been physically abused by correctional officers within the maximum-security prison’s unit for disciplined inmates. The state denies such abuse occurred.

The expert, a former corrections administrator, visited the Raleigh prison to recommend how safety could be improved inside the unit while the lawsuit is heard. The changes would go above and beyond recent video security-system upgrades within Unit One.

The Department of Public Safety, which includes the state prison system, and attorneys for the prisoners agreed with four recommendations, but department representatives said a fifth — the hand-held camera requirement — was overly burdensome.

Central Prison Warden Carlton Joyner “theorized” last week in a court hearing the policy change could cost millions of dollars, in part due to training, the order said. But “it was unclear to the court how Warden Joyner arrived at this calculation, and it was not substantiated with any evidence or documentation,” Boyle wrote in overruling this and other objections by the state.

The judge said he would issue a preliminary injunction ordering the hand-held camera requirement if the state didn’t comply voluntarily.

In a statement, state public safety Secretary Frank Perry said late Thursday his “department respects the court’s decision and will carry out its orders.”

Boyle pointed out the prison expert wrote such cameras are already used by prison personnel. The cameras are available to Unit One staff to record “anticipated” incidents of guards using force to subdue a prisoner, according to a lawyer for the prisoners who are suing. The recommendation would apply to “unanticipated” incidents requiring force and would cover areas where fixed cameras can’t cover.

“Using hand-held cameras is a low-cost, common sense solution,” Elizabeth Simpson, the prisoners’ attorney, wrote in an email. “The policy has been used successfully in other state prisons because officers and inmates both behave better when they know they are being filmed.”

Other recommended changes by the expert included installing additional cameras in Unit One and keeping a written maintenance schedule on the cameras’ upkeep.