Souza-Baranowski prison to introduce officer-worn body cameras 

Pilot program aims to improve safety, transparency 

SOME CORRECTION OFFICERS at Souza-Baranowski prison will begin wearing body cameras this summer, under a new pilot program being launched by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.  

The maximum-security state prison has come under increasing scrutiny amid allegations of brutality by prison guards. 

“Implementing this [body-worn camera] pilot program reinforces our commitment to advancing the safety of correctional officers and those entrusted to their care,” Public Safety and Security Secretary Terrence Reidy said in a statement. “The program affords us the opportunity to explore how this technology can improve operational efficiency and enhance the value of transparency in our institutions.” 

While the use of body cameras is becoming increasingly common among police forces, this will be the first Massachusetts state correctional facility to adopt the technology. The agency said in a press release that the goals of the program are to improve safety for officers and inmates, while increasing transparency and accountability.  

The administration will spend $1 million on the initiative. Officials must first assess what type of technology is needed and what kind of cameras would be most effective. Researchers will determine best practices for things like retaining records and collecting evidence, the statement said. The first cameras are expected to be deployed this summer.  

Elaine Driscoll, a spokesperson for the Office of Public Safety and Security, said the Department of Correction is still figuring out the details, like how many officers will wear the cameras. 

“This innovative tool has a proven track record of improving safety, providing valuable documentation for evidentiary purposes, resolving officer-involved incidents, and offering a useful training tool for the department and its officers,” DOC Commissioner Carol Mici said in a statement.  

Souza-Baranowski prison was the site of an attack last January in which inmates injured three correction officers. Prisoners say correction officers retaliated with months of unprovoked violence and brutality. 

Violence in the prison was the subject of a Boston Globe Spotlight investigation in August. Earlier this month, Prisoners’ Legal Services and the law firm Hogan Lovells filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Correction, alleging weeks of brutal, violent, and racist behavior by correction officers in retaliation for last January’s attack. 

Lauren Petit, a staff attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services who is involved in the lawsuit, said having officers wear body cameras could be an important step for all officers, especially those involved in forced cell extractions. “Assuming that the body cameras do audio, you’ll be able to hear what the officers are saying and what the prisoner is saying, you’ll be able to get a better vantage point on what’s happening when force is being used,” Petit said. “I think in terms of holding people accountable during the use of force it would be really important.” 

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Shira Schoenberg

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About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Petit said if body cameras had been in place during the use of force detailed in the lawsuit, there would have been video evidence available. “Or, what the hope is, knowing they’d be recorded, perhaps much of the force would not have occurred at all,” she said. 

One detail that will presumably need to be worked out is who has access to the footage. Separate from the pilot program, Prisoners Legal Services has introduced a bill that would ensure that victims of assaults have access to any video recordings that are made. Prisoners Legal Services Attorney Jesse White said body cameras will not be useful if people who are assaulted by correctional staff cannot access the video recordings, and attorneys for incarcerated people have traditionally had to wait lengthy periods of time to obtain that type of access.