Ohio Prison Guards to Wear Body Cameras After Pilot Program Touted as Success

The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction announced Thursday it will send over 5,000 body cameras to its prison guards and parole officers.

Axon, a company that makes technology and weapons, will provide the cameras. The agency signed a contract with the company detailing the cameras will initially cost approximately $6.9 million, then will cost between $3.2 million and $3.3 million annually for the next four years, according to a statement from the ODRC.

The statement said this move follows a successful pilot program the state ran from June to October of last year to test the effect of body cameras in two prisons and two parole authority offices. The Associated Press reported the program showed prison violence and guards' use of force decreased. Officials with the ODRC attributed this to the presence of body cameras.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the Axon cameras are programmed to automatically turn on when a prison guard uses their pepper spray or a parole officer draws their duty weapon. Also, officers in some prison control centers will be able to turn on the cameras remotely. Besides these situations, officers can choose when to turn the cameras on.

The cameras are also able to store 18 hours of soundless video that can be saved if an incident occurs. If it's not saved, they will automatically record over the old footage after the 18 hours are up.

Annette Chambers-Smith, director of the ODRC, told the AP the cameras have a "lookback" function as well, which provides audio and video footage from the 90 seconds before a camera is activated.

In a written statement Axon told Newsweek that it was excited to partner with the ODRC "as they deploy Axon body-worn cameras."

"By leveraging this technology and leading the way in corrections, the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction are at the forefront of public safety technology," it said.

Chambers-Smith told the Dispatch body cameras are "perfect" and "unbiased" witnesses that are "just one piece of an overarching plan to make our prisons as safe as possible for the individuals and staff that live and work in them."

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

The cameras are scheduled to all be delivered by May. The deployment will start with the Ohio State Penitentiary, a supermax prison in Youngstown. About 500 supervisors at the prison are already wearing the cameras and the officers are set to receive them this week, the Dispatch reported.

The statement said the cameras and their storage will be funded through a combination of federal CARES Act money approved by the Controlling Board, grant funding from the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the ODRC's operating budget.

Chambers-Smith told the Dispatch Ohio's corrections system will be the first in the country to give body cameras to every state prison and parole authority office. There are 28 prisons across the state.

Axon, body camera, police, Utah
Ohio will deploy 5,000 body cameras for its prison guards and parole officers. Above, several newly deployed Axon body cameras and batteries sit in the patrol room charging and downloading video at the West Valley City Police Department on March 2, 2015, in West Valley City, Utah. Photo by George Frey/Getty Images