For years I’ve communicated with prisoners at facilities across the nation often hearing about changes happening within their institutions. About 20 months ago a few Eastern and Western states began adopting body cameras within the institutions to be worn by the custody staff. The public knows these staff as the guards.
I knew this effort would soon come to my state because the narrative of corrections is successfully influenced by a handful of for profit organizations. These organizations have effective lobbying arms, and the end results are state corrections departments spending tax payer money on products that often aren’t needed. There’s an ongoing narrative pushed by these for profit
entities that something like body cameras and full body scanners are needed and it goes like this:
‘Today’s prisoners are more violent and the old methods and means of control no longer work putting prisoners and staff at risk. Institutions need to be upgraded to meet 21st century challenges and this includes making the investments to meet this challenge.’
Fair enough. While it is true that time requires general upgrades, what’s not true is that the existing means of control no longer work. What’s true is that at high security levels there are violent prisoners, but what’s not true is that there has been a fundamental change in prisoner mentality. If anything, the issue is overcrowding something that stresses prisoners. Does this mean we suddenly need thousands of body cameras and multiple full body scanners at a quarter million dollars each, at each institution?
I’m at a minimum security facility. Prisoners at this level are serving time for non violent crimes and are short timers, or they are older long timer model inmates who worked their way down to this level such as myself. I ask you, do you think that a full body scanner and body cameras are needed to control a crowd like this?
I’ve been incarcerated for so long that it is easy to spot the changes that have taken place whereas the public is none the wiser. Decades ago when I began my sentence there were no body scanners, body cams or a wide host of measures that today’s corrections narrative says is imperative. Prisoners back then were the same as they are today and things ran just fine. I know there are those who might disagree with me, certainly the companies who peddle these products will, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is true. I know. I lived through that time. This blog contains many of my personal stories about that era.
Once upon a time custody supervision within the institutions entailed one or two guards in the cell block or housing unit and nothing more. This was true for when I began my time at level 3, which is a high level in my state. Over time a couple of high profile outlier events occurred, most notably the 1993 riot at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility (SOCF) a level 4 or maximum security facility in Lucasville, Ohio, and to a lesser degree an event that happened years later at the level 3 facility I was at where a handful of prisoners took control of a juvenile housing unit murdering one of the kids. I wrote about this event in the 7 April 2020 post titled “The First Major Lockdown“. It was a very personal event for me for I tutored a number of the kids in that unit including the one who was murdered. I wrote about these children in the post “Watching Children Grow Up In Prison“.
Both of these events happened decades ago. The issue behind the SOCF riot centered around how a cadre of staff were mistreating the prisoners. While this post isn’t about that event, I personally know prisoners who endured that siege and who were paid damages won from a class action lawsuit against the state. However, the SOCF event was specific to that facility and not an endemic failure within the state’s entire system.
Unfortunately, SOCF and other outlier events nationwide during that era spawned the movement that today has grown into a multi billion dollar industry around corrections. It’s an industry profiting off of public fears, of a narrative spun by and perpetuated by for profit organizations that have successfully embedded themselves within the incarceration narrative.
So, back to body cameras and scanners. As a prisoner I have no issue with these things. Neither do my peers, most of whom have told me that they are glad they’re present. Do I think it’s a monumental waste of taxpayer funds? Absolutely. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent on these initiatives. But as a prisoner there are marginal benefits to having staff wear cameras, the most notable of which forces accountability and professional ethics. Since these body cams were introduced my peers have commented on a noticeable change in the attitudes of some of those forced to wear them. Body cams don’t change prisoner attitudes, for prisoners are already under constant camera observation.
As for quarter million dollar body scanners? I don’t get it. It changes nothing and stops nothing, but again there are those who will disagree with me. In an era where scrutiny over tax payer funds has grown, the initiatives I’ve talked about in this post are excellent examples of the power of these for profit organizations in influencing policy makers.
What is the true expense to society of these initiatives?
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