President Joe Biden signed into law Tuesday a bill requiring the federal Bureau of Prisons to overhaul outdated security systems and fix broken surveillance cameras after rampant staff sexual abuse, inmate escapes and high-profile deaths.
The bipartisan Prison Camera Reform Act, which passed the Senate last year and the House on Dec. 14, requires the Bureau of Prisons to evaluate and enhance security camera, radio and public address systems at its 122 facilities.
The agency must submit a report to Congress within three months detailing deficiencies and a plan to make needed upgrades. Those upgrades are required within three years and the bureau must submit annual progress reports to lawmakers.
“Broken prison camera systems are enabling corruption, misconduct and abuse,” said the legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga. “That’s why I brought Republicans and Democrats together to pass my Prison Camera Reform Act, which is now law.”
The Bureau of Prisons said in a statement that it “appreciates the work and support of Senator Ossoff and other members of Congress, as well as the President of the United States.”
Failing and inadequate security cameras have allowed inmates to escape from federal prisons and hampered investigations. They’ve been an issue in inmate deaths, including that of financier Jeffrey Epstein at a federal jail in New York City in 2019.
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog found that deficiencies with security cameras have compromised investigations into staff misconduct, the introduction of contraband, civil rights violations and inmate deaths.
In March, The Associated Press reported that a lack of security cameras in critical areas contributed to widespread staff sexual abuse of inmates at a federal women’s prison in Dublin, California.
In introducing the camera bill last year, Ossoff said blind spots, lost footage and technical failures were unacceptable. He said federal prisons “must be cleaned up and held to the highest standards.”
The legislation was backed by the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and the top Republican, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley. Reps. Fred Keller, R-Pa., and Lucy McBath, D-Ga., introduced the House version of the bill.
The federal correctional workers union, the Council of Prison Locals, also supported the measure. Union president Shane Fausey said upgrading cameras and other systems will go a long way to “further enhancing the level of safety in our nation’s federal prisons.”