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Rollout of body cameras for Ohio prison and parole staff begins

Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ray Santiago shows off the patrol's new body camera system. [ Ohio State Highway Patrol]
Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ray Santiago shows off the patrol's new body camera system.

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) is moving forward with its plan to install more than 5,000 body-worn cameras inside all of the prisons and adult parole facilities.

ODRC Director Annette Chambers-Smith announced today that the process to outfit agency prison and parole staff with body-worn cameras is now underway. The goal is to complete the full rollout of the body-worn cameras throughout the first half of 2022.

Chambers-Smith said the body cams worn by corrections and parole officers while on duty can activate automatically when an incident occurs.

“We did not want the correction officers to have to make a decision between their own safety and defending themselves and turning on a camera,” said Chambers-Smith. She said the cameras will produce 90 seconds of audio and visual data during an incident. It will also store 18 hours of background video and reset automatically. ODRC hired Arizona-based Axon to run the system which is also used by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

“This is just one piece in an overarching plan to have our prisons be as safe as possible for the people that live and work in them,” said Chambers-Smith. “We are changing our policies around physical interaction. We’re going much more with the behavioral intervention model. In fact, you’re seeing some of that language change. We’re changing our training.”

The process of outfitting prison and parole staff with body cameras started last month and included staff training and the deployment of approximately 550 body-worn cameras for security supervisors in all of Ohio’s prisons.

“These cameras will supplement our existing stationary camera systems and will help to capture areas we otherwise may not be able to see,” said Director Chambers-Smith. “This is ultimately about safety, transparency and accountability for everyone who works or lives in our prisons.”

This rollout comes after incidents of alleged inmate mistreatment in the state, including the death of an inmate at a Pickaway County correctional facility.

The implementation plan includes the deployment of an additional 4,550 cameras which will be assigned to specifically-identified prison posts and individual parole officers in the Adult Parole Authority.

A pilot program last year convinced ODRC that body-worn cameras can be supported by correction officers and inmates. The pilot project to test the use of body cameras in Ohio’s prisons was announced in June 2021 and was complete by October. The pilot concluded in October and involved two prisons and two Adult Parole Authority regions. During this time, DRC said they connected with other state correctional and law enforcement agencies, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol, to identify best practices for body camera use.

The body-worn camera systems, including equipment and storage, will be funded through a combination of federal CARES Act money approved by the Controlling Board, grant funding from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance, and DRC’s operating budget. The system will cost $6.9 million to install. ODRC will pay about $3 million to maintain the system.

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