A federal judge in North Carolina has stated that staff members at the notorious North Carolina Central Prison must use hand-held cameras to document how inmates are treated by guards in situations involving the use of force. The judge said he would issue a legal order to enforce the hand-held camera requirement if the state failed to comply voluntarily.
New security cameras and digital recorders were installed at the prison in 2013 after several inmates filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming they had been severely beaten by guards at the facility. According to the claim, which was filed in federal court on behalf of eight North Carolina Central prisoners, the beatings occurred in an area called Unit One, or “The Hole,” – a section of the prison where inmates are held in disciplinary solitary confinement.
In their lawsuit, the prisoners claimed they were handcuffed and shackled, then taken from their cells to unmonitored areas of the facility and severely beaten by prison guards. According to an Associated Press report on the case, the prisoners’ medical records show evidence of blunt-force injuries supporting their claims, including concussions and broken bones. In one case, a prisoner’s injuries were so severe that he was forced to use a wheelchair.
Although North Carolina officials denied that the guards had used excessive force, they agreed to install additional cameras in the unmonitored areas of Unit One. However, a recent report by a court-appointed expert – a former corrections administrator – showed that the new cameras do not completely eliminate the “blind spots” in which the alleged abuse occurred. The report also states that some of the existing cameras were so poorly maintained and out of focus that the recordings were of limited value.
Also included in the expert’s report were several recommendations for the prison to further address the issue of prisoner abuse. Along with the use of handheld cameras by prison staff, these included installing additional fixed-location cameras and scheduling regular cleaning and maintenance of the security cameras.
The North Carolina Department of Public Safety agreed to most of the recommendations but objected to providing staff with handheld cameras on the grounds that it would be prohibitively expensive and overly burdensome. However, finding those objections unsubstantiated by evidence or documentation, the judge instructed the prison to comply with all of recommendations in the report.
When lawsuits arise over inmate abuse or other infractions by prison staff, they trigger a different set of rules and procedures than other types of lawsuits due to the fact that they involve claims against the government. Because this area of the law is highly complex, it is important to seek help from an attorney with experience in litigation against the state if you or a family member has been hurt by prison staff and is interested in pursuing a personal injury claim.