Dems knock body camera delays at prisons, DOC says moving ‘quickly as possible’

Dems are slamming the Walker administration for a delay in implementing body-worn cameras as the state’s maximum security prisons.

But the Department of Corrections fired back it’s moving “as quickly as possible” to deploy the cameras for officers working isolation units at six prisons.

DOC Secretary Cathy Jess told lawmakers earlier this week the agency had yet to implement body-worn cameras, in part, because of an industry shortage of raw materials that had delayed agency efforts to obtain them.

Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, sought to tie the delay to other issues within DOC, including problems at the youth prisons in northern Wisconsin, accusing Gov. Scott Walker of continuing to jeopardize “the safety of correctional officers and inmates across our state.” She said staffing shortages at state prisons mean guards are “forced to gamble with their personal safety every single day.”

“I don’t understand how this administration continues to bungle even the most basic tasks like purchasing safety equipment,” she said.

But Corrections spokesman Tristan Cook said the agency “conducted a deliberate, rigorous, and comprehensive process” to implement body-worn cameras after the 2017-19 state budget funded them. He said the order was placed in early April, and the agency is still waiting for it to be filled.

“Nothing is more important to the Department than the safety and security of our employees,” Cook said.

The 2017-19 state budget funded body cameras and required the agency to report on efforts to implement them.

But Jess wrote Monday to the co-chairs of the Joint Finance Committee the agency had not yet implemented them due to delays in receiving the cameras and related equipment. Once funding was authorized, Jess wrote, the department had to decide what features it wanted and then “a lengthy procurement process followed” before the contract was awarded.

DOC now expects to have body-worn cameras installed at four adult institutions by the end of calendar year 2018 with the other two during the following year.

The guv’s budget included $591,400 in general purpose revenue to purchase the cameras for correctional officers in restrictive housing units at the state’s maximum security prisons. The money was intended to cover cameras, docking stations to charge them and installation at the six sites.

Monday’s letter detailed plans for 200 cameras at the six institutions.

The Joint Finance Committee added a requirement to the budget that DOC report by July 1 each institution where the cameras were being utilized, the number at each prison, and the number of staff and inmate assaults reported since the implementation of the cameras in restrictive housing.

Jess wrote the agency can’t meet the committee’s request for a report on assaults, because the cameras haven’t been implemented.

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, knocked the agency for not bringing the issue to the lawmakers’ attention earlier, asking what the consequences were from the delay.

Asked about criticisms of the delay, Walker spokeswoman Amy Hesenberg said, “Governor Walker believes our law enforcement officers and corrections officers should have body cameras.”

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