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15 September 2017

Body worn video cameras

Body Worn Video Cameras are becoming more common in prisons following a commitment by HMPPS, previously NOMS, to roll them out nationally as part of attempts to improve safety and security in prison.

In this article, Ryan Harman, Advice and Information Manager at the Prison Reform Trust explains the rules currently governing their use.

Click ‘read more’ for the full article

Body Worn Video Cameras are becoming more common in prisons following a commitment by HMPPS, previously NOMS, to roll them out nationally as part of attempts to improve safety and security in prison.

There could be some real benefits from correct use of this technology. In their Learning Lessons bulletin about Use of Force, published in January 2014, the Prison and Probation Ombudsman highlighted video footage as an important source of evidence when investigating complaints about use of force. CCTV can be useful for this, but there are many areas in which it is not available in prisons, including in people’s cells. Body Worn Video Cameras should mean incidents in these areas are recorded, improving protection for prisoners from inappropriate use of force and staff from possible false allegations.

To support this a new Prison Service Instruction has been introduced – PSI 04/2017 Body Worn Video Cameras. It contains mandatory actions for prisons as well as some general guidelines on how the cameras should be used and what should happen to recordings afterwards. The PSI applies to all public prisons but should also be seen as guidance for private prisons using this technology.

The PSI states that, in prisons where body worn video cameras are being used, they should be ‘set to record during response to any reportable incident’. This includes when the staff member thinks they may have to use force against a person, when they think a situation poses a risk of harm to themselves or others, and when responding to an alarm bell. If a member of staff wearing a body worn video camera does not record an incident like of this nature they will be expected to give reasons for this in a written statement afterwards. Staff could also be liable to investigation and disciplinary action if they are found to be deliberately obscuring the camera or failing to record all or part of an incident without good reason.

Body worn video cameras are not allowed to be used covertly, and staff should make a clear announcement to anyone nearby that they are starting the recording. Staff are discouraged from filming in areas where privacy issues are likely, such as in shower areas, but they can decide to do so if there is a risk to others which justifies this.

One of the recurring problems the PPO highlighted in their Learning Lessons bulletin was video footage not being retained, often because not enough thought was given as to whether it might be required as evidence for complaints. It seems the HMPPS have taken heed of some of this advice – the PSI is clear that footage should be secured promptly and can can initially be kept for up to 3 months. After this point it will be automatically deleted unless there is justification to save it for longer. Where there is justification to keep digital footage longer than 3 months it can be tagged by a designated ‘Approval Officer’.

If you have made a complaint about an incident which was recorded on body worn cameras the footage should then be tagged and retained until the end of any proceedings or appeal routes relating to it – this includes internal complaints, complaints escalated to the Prison and Probations Ombudsman and judicial proceedings. If a member of staff is aware that there is camera footage relevant to a complaint they should inform the manager who is investigating so they can decide if the footage should be tagged and saved.

The prison can also decide to show you the footage if you want to see it. If material from body worn video cameras is being processed in relation to you then you should also be able to request a copy of it under a Subject Access Request.

If you are involved in an incident in which you think force has been used inappropriately we advise you to use internal complaints procedure in the first instance. If you are not satisfied after this you can escalate your complaint to the PPO for further investigation.

You can contact the Prison Reform Trust’s advice team at FREEPOST ND6125 London EC1B 1PN. Our free information line is open Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 3.30-5.30. The number is 0808 802 0060 and does not need to be put on your pin. Please note, the above article focusses on prisons in England and Wales and may not apply elsewhere.