1. Ohio — (Associated Press) The Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction plans to supplement its more than 6,000 fixed security cameras by outfitting guards with body-worn cameras. Ohio’s pilot program began after a judge ordered the devices for guards at a state prison in San Diego. After an Ohio inmate died in a struggle with guards last January, the state’s pilot program accelerated. The guards’ union suggested spending the money on more guards, not more cameras, citing the redundancy of additional cameras. One advantage of body-worn video equipment cited is their audio feature. Other states outfitting at least some guards with body cameras include; Georgia, Florida, New York, Virginia, Wisconsin and California.
2. Kentucky — (AP) Prison officials in the state are providing inmates with copies of legal mail instead of original documents. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Department of Public Advocacy are suing to stop the practice, which they say violates inmate rights and the confidentiality of the mail. The Kentucky Department of Corrections said that the practice does not violate inmate rights and that officials are responsible for preventing the flow of contraband via the mail. The ACLU said that there is no evidence that contraband enters prison via legal mail, and that the copies provided are often incomplete.
3. Pennsylvania — (USA Today) Philadelphia has banned traffic stops for minor violations like broken taillights. The law distinguishes between “primary violations” that will still prompt stops because they involve public safety, and “secondary violations” that will not result in stops. Some police departments have used the stops as a pretext to search for weapons and drugs. Critics say that the stops disproportionately affect people of color. A recent, highly publicized example was the case of Daunte Wright. Police killed Wright during a stop that started because of expired registration tags and an air freshener dangling from his rearview mirror. The 14-2 vote by the City Council gives police 120 days to educate and train officers before implementation of the new rule.
4. California — (AP) In September a federal judge mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for all California prison employees entering a prison, as well as for certain inmates. But in late November a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the order pending an appeal. The mandated deadline was set for Jan. 12 but the stay blocks enforcement until the appeal hearing, sometime in March. The September order allowed exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
5. Massachusetts — (GBH News) State prisons are operating normally, even though 150 employees are still not in compliance with an Oct. 18 COVID-19 vaccination mandate. In October Gov. Charlie Baker activated as many as 250 National Guardsmen as a contingency measure during litigation over the vaccine mandate. However, so far it has not been necessary to use the guardsmen in place of unvaccinated correctional officers. The non-compliant employees have been suspended without pay, first for five days, then for 10. If still not vaccinated, employees are subject to termination. Terminations may now be due in some cases. However, the Department of Corrections is not providing information about disciplinary actions.
6.Maryland — (The Washington Post) The state’s General Assembly overrode Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of a bill that stripped his ability to overturn parole decisions for people serving life sentences. Maryland was one of only three states that still allowed that power to governors. The Assembly’s action follows years of debate between proponents of tough-on-crime policies and prisoner advocates, who say the parole process is over-politicized. In 1995, Parris Glendening, then governor of the state, said, “Life means life.” In the ensuing two decades, Maryland governors routinely overturned parole recommendations, affecting predominately Black inmates. About 77% of the state’s prisoners serving life sentences are Black, in contrast to about 30% of the general population.