Senators Submit Bill Forcing Federal Prisons to Upgrade Cameras After Inmate Escapes, Deaths

Senators have put forth a bipartisan bill that would require the Bureau of Prisons and the Justice Department to ensure adequate security camera coverage in all 122 federal prisons after failing security cameras have allowed inmates to escape or kill themselves.

Reports from the Justice Department's inspector general detailed how malfunctioning prison cameras and inadequate camera coverage has allowed inmates at federal prisons to escape, and hindered investigations.

Over the last 20 months, more than 30 inmates have escaped from federal prisons across the U.S., and nearly half of the escaped prisoners have still not been caught.

Faulty security cameras were also at the center of the investigation into wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein's suicide behind bars in 2019.

"Blind spots, lost footage, and technical failures are unacceptable in federal prisons, which must be cleaned up and held to the highest standards," said Senator Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who introduced the legislation Wednesday.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Prison Camera Upgrades
Senators introduced a bill Wednesday that would force federal prisons to upgrade their security cameras after faulty cameras have allowed prisoners to escape or kill themselves without detection. The bill has bipartisan support, and was introduced by Senator Jon Ossoff. Getty Images

Ossoff, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Senator Chuck Grassley, the panel's top Republican, said issues with cameras—which sometimes are not working or recorded over too frequently—make it difficult for authorities to properly investigate allegations of misconduct.

The legislation, known as the Prison Camera Reform Act of 2021, would require the Bureau of Prisons to evaluate its security camera, radio and public address systems and submit a report to Congress within 90 days detailing deficiencies and a plan to implement the necessary upgrade. It would require the upgrades within three years and annual progress reports to lawmakers.

Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said the bill would "bring our facilities into the 21st century while helping us achieve our goal of creating safer conditions for those at correctional facilities." Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said the measure would "help ensure safety, security and accountability at federal prisons for both corrections officers and inmates."

The Bureau of Prisons' camera issues were thrust into the public spotlight after Epstein's death when investigators learned that some cameras in his housing unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York had malfunctioned. Other cameras did not capture anyone coming or going from Epstein's cell before he killed himself, former Attorney General William Barr has said. The two officers who were supposed to be checking on Epstein every 30 minutes were instead sleeping and browsing the internet, shopping for furniture and motorcycles, prosecutors said.

The Bureau of Prisons has long been plagued by allegations of serious misconduct and abuse. Just in the past two years, the agency has struggled with a failed response to the pandemic, a series of escapes, deaths and critically low staffing levels that have hampered responses to emergencies.

Jon Ossoff
Senator Jon Ossoff, a Georgia Democrat, introduced a bipartisan bill Wednesday that would force federal prisons to upgrade their security cameras after faulty cameras have allowed inmates to escape or kill themselves. Ossoff listens during a Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee hearing on the CARES Act on Capitol Hill September 28 in Washington, D.C. Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP