Thousands of Ohio prison guards will begin wearing body cameras for the first time this year, bringing more transparency inside prisons at a time when the pandemic and guard shortages are making many prisons more dangerous, the New York Times reports. Annette Chambers-Smith, head of the state prison agency, said the state was buying 5,100 body-worn cameras that will be used by guards and parole officers in all of the state’s prisons. Not every guard will wear a camera at all times. Axon, the company that is supplying the cameras, said the state was adopting the largest body camera program of any prison agency in the world. There are already thousands of surveillance cameras across Ohio’s 28 state prisons. The addition of body cameras could make it easier to review the actions of guards and prisoners, capturing incidents that are not visible through existing cameras or are blocked from view.
The move comes as several other states have begun to use body cameras in prisons and jails, albeit on a smaller scale, amid increasing criticism that prison guards, like police officers, are regularly involved in violent encounters that may involve witnesses with competing versions of events. A new Ohio policy governing body cameras says that cameras may automatically activate when a gun or pepper spray is drawn. The policy says the cameras must be powered at all times, meaning that even if guards cannot or do not activate them, video would still be captured and stored for 18 hours. Prison officials in several other states, including Wisconsin and Georgia, have begun to put cameras on some prison guards. A lawsuit in California over claims that prison employees had violated disabled prisoners’ rights led a judge to order that officers at five state prisons be outfitted with the cameras.