A federal judge responding to prisoner abuse claims has ordered corrections officers at California’s Richard J. Donovan prison in San Diego to wear body cameras.
U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken gave the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) five months to have the body cameras in use on officers while interacting with prisoners, the Los Angeles Times reported Sept. 8.
The judge’s ruling stems from a civil rights lawsuit involving evidence that supported disabled incarcerated people’s allegations of being physically assaulted by officers at the R.J. Donovan facility.
Judge Wilken was expected to hear a later motion “that examines evidence of abuses across the state prison system and seeks to implement the use of body cameras across 35 prisons,” the Times reported.
“The (R.J. Donovan) injunction was granted based on 112 sworn declarations from incarcerated people that law-yers said showed staff ‘routinely use unnecessary and excessive force against people with disabilities,’” the Times reported.
“The court finds that this high incidence of incidents involving the class members tends to give additional credibility to the inmates’ declarations … that staff at RJD targeted class members and other vulnerable inmates for physical and other forms of abuse.”
Throughout its history, CDCR corrections officers have never worn body cam-eras in any of its state prisons to record their interaction with residents, staff or the public, the newspaper reported. “This is a very important order to help put an end to physical abuse and broken bones of those with physical disabilities at this most dangerous of prisons,” said attorney Gay Grunfeld. Her law firm worked with the nonprofit Prison Law Office to represent the plaintiffs.
“We are unable to comment,” a spokeswoman for the CDCR said, in part because of the ongoing litigation in the case. Part of Judge Wilken’s or-der calls for the CDCR to also install surveillance cameras in critical areas of the R.J. Dono-van facility in the next four or five months, according to the Times.
The state must also provide “third-party ex-pert monitor oversight of evidence” collected there, it was reported. The Times reported that in court papers, the judge noted the CDCR argument that “body cameras are not as useful in prison as surveillance cameras,” adding also that it would take longer to install them and to get them in operation.
To prevent further retaliation, a temporary restraining order was issued by the court for the CDCR to transfer two incarcerated people from R.J. Donovan who made statements to lawyers about violence allegedly carried out by corrections officers.