WASHINGTON, D.C. - A bill to install security cameras in the nation's 122 federal prisons could soon become law, in a move championed by sex survivor advocates and many correctional officers themselves.
On Wednesday, the House passed Sen. Jon Ossoff's "Prison Camera Reform Act," which would require the U.S. Bureau of Prisons to upgrade outdated, broken security camera systems within three years if the act is signed into law.
Ossoff (D-Georgia) introduced the bill last year with Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-IA). The bill passed the U.S. Senate last fall. The bill is now headed to President Joe Biden's desk.
The act did not address correctional officers wearing body cameras – a common practice among local law enforcement but practically unheard of for federal prison guards.
Having working security cameras has been central issue at the all-women's prison in Dublin, Calif., where it's been well-documented that the many of the cameras there are broken or non-existent.
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The lack of video coverage was key in the trial against former FCI Dublin Warden Ray J. Garcia, where his defense team argued that there was no video camera footage to prove that he sexually abused the women in his care. The jury didn't believe that defense and convicted him on Dec. 8.
During the trial, former FCI Dublin unit manager Stephanie Milliken testified that the prison lacks enough cameras, not all of them that are there actually work, not all of them are monitored and that footage can be deleted for unknown reasons and unknown times.
The lax security video at the prison has had FCI Dublin correctional officer union president Ed Canales steaming mad for years.
"I have brought up this camera issue for more than a decade," Canales told KTVU during the trial. "I warned the agency about allowing a warden to have access to these cameras."
But Canales said all his warnings were ignored.
He supports installing cameras because if they were up and running, then many cases of sexual abuse at prisons wouldn't occur because "officers would think twice about what they might have been planning on doing."
Conversely, because it's well-known there aren't enough working cameras at the facility, Canales said some of the incarcerated women are now falsely accusing officers of sex crimes, causing unwanted angst and Internal Affairs investigations in the department.
"Now inmates are making accusations, some of which are false," he said. "Because they know the cameras aren't working."
The bill’s passage comes one day after Ossoff unveiled the results of his 8-month bipartisan investigation into sexual abuse of women at 27 prisons where women are held.
Like at FCI Dublin, survivors of sexual abuse at prisons in New York and Kentucky testified that BOP employees assaulted them in areas where they knew there was no camera coverage.
The act, if signed into law, requires the Bureau of Prisons to not only install working cameras but also ensure the documentation and accessibility of video evidence that may pertain to misconduct by staff or inmates, negligent or abusive treatment of inmates, or criminal activity within correctional facilities.
The BOP has three years to implement the plan.
Ossoff's office said that the prisons already have money they can use and more money will come from government bills in future years.
Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at email@example.com or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez