By Kala Kachmar
WETUMPKA, Ala. — Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka is focusing on inmate safety with 300 surveillance cameras.
For years, a culture of abuse, fear and sexual misconduct has plagued the prison. Now, with the installation of 300 surveillance cameras at the facility, consultants hired to improve conditions at Tutwiler say staff have an opportunity to change the culture for the better — and become a model for prisons across the country.
"While it's painful to go through a process when there's so much attention on one institution, it's also an opportunity to come out as a leader," said Andie Moss, president of The Moss Group, a national consulting firm that specializes in criminal justice management and sexual safety in confinement.
On Thursday, Moss held camera management training for central office administrators and Tutwiler leaders, including wardens, high-ranking correctional offices and investigators. One of The Moss Group's seven strategies at Tutwiler is camera implementation.
The training, however, wasn't technical training on how to turn the monitors on and off or how to use the software. The training is intended to help leaders understand and implement best practices for the cameras as they relate to policy, operations, investigations and Prison Rape Elimination Act considerations.
Moss said it's important to develop a "crystal clear" policy on the camera system's limits, access, staffing, maintenance, privacy and confidentiality, so Tutwiler has a solid accountability system.
Wendy Williams, the Alabama Department of Correction's deputy commissioner of women's services, said the policy is evolving as staff get trained and gain experience using the system. She said she hopes to have a policy in place within the next few weeks.
In most places, cameras are just a security practice, Moss said. But because cameras have so many implications — and can send negative messages to inmates and staff — communication is key to successfully using the system.
Moss said the group has worked with Tutwiler staff on properly positioning the cameras. For example, the cameras near the bathrooms are pointing so they can capture who goes in and out, but not see anyone while they're in there.
Moss said it's no secret that Tutwiler was not designed for safety, and there are a lot of blind spots and isolated areas. She said effectively using the camera system — along with proper supervision, staffing and policies — will change the culture.
Tutwiler Warden Bobby Barrett said there have been a few inmates who are skeptical about the cameras, but most of them see the cameras as positive.
"The cameras will identify wrong, but they can also be used to improve everyone's performance," said Jim Dennis, an expert consultant in camera management with The Moss Group.
Moss said Tutwiler has a lot of the same issues that other female correctional facilities across the country face, but the difference is that the resources at Tutwiler have been far more limited.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 the Montgomery Advertiser