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Forget Police Cameras, Jail Cameras Are the Next Battleground in Criminal Justice Reform

Some embattled law enforcement officials hope that sunlight will be the best disinfectant. That’s why across the country, from Santa Clara, CA, to Baltimore, MD, officials are installing new cameras inside their jails.

After the deaths of innocent Americans like Sandra Bland and Freddie Gray, and after countless accusations of excessive force, violence, and even executions by corrections officers, many jails around the country are adding cameras to their facilities.

While every major police department in the country is either implementing or actively considering a police body camera program, advocates for criminal justice reform are now stepping up efforts to improve transparency in America’s jails and prisons.

Sheriffs in Los Angeles County, police in Chicago, and corrections officers from Rikers Island in New York City have all been accused of routinely using violence against inmates. This June, a major case is reaching its climax in a New York City courtroom, where nine corrections officers are accused of taking an inmate away from security cameras and beating him. The officers face charges like gang assault, falsifying records, and official misconduct.

Criminal justice reform activists say more cameras are the obvious solution to the violence.

In Santa Clara County, Sheriff Laurie Smith has spent two years and $20 million installing cameras in local jails, even buying some cameras with her personal money.

“It’s imperative we act swiftly,” Smith said to The Mercury News. “There cannot be a delay because of bureaucracy. That’s unacceptable. Anything we can do to bring additional transparency, we want to do right away.”

In Clark County, IN, one jail got a high tech upgrade when reality show producers moved in to film a show called “60 Days In.” Thanks to the show’s producers, the Clark County Sheriff Jame Noel says he has high definition, 360-degree cameras to use for an extra layer of security.

Clark County’s new cameras are so high quality they can detect inmates hiding controlled medication in their cheeks. While typical consumer cameras might have a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second, high quality cameras operate at anywhere from 1/8000th to 100,000 frames per second or more. Of course, cash strapped county jails aren’t likely to luck out with TV quality cameras, courtesy of a reality show production.

Still, more and more jails are installing new cameras in their facilities.

In Baltimore, the epicenter of many Black Lives Matter protests after Freddie Gray had his spine broken in the back of a police van, local officials recently unveiled new and retrofitted prisoner transport vans. The new vans contain four security cameras, which officials say will better protect both law enforcement and inmates alike.




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