December 19, 2014

Prison officials considering infrared cameras along fences

Lee Correctional Institution (Courtesy: SC Department of Corrections)

Lee Correctional Institution (Courtesy: SC Department of Corrections)

State prison officials are considering using infrared cameras for the first time in a maximum-security prison.

The South Carolina Department of Corrections is seeking approval to spend $12,000 in design and study work to eventually install thermal cameras at Lee Correctional Institution near Bishopville.

Agency spokesman Clark Newsom said officials hope the cameras will allow correction officers to spot potential escapees or outsiders smuggling contraband along the perimeter fences at night.

“It will detect body heat and movement in the yard that… you might not be able to see with the naked eye very well,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “It detects there is movement out there and puts us on alert so we can gut someone on the outside to check.”

Newsom said contraband is one of the biggest challenges facing prison officials in South Carolina, as inmates often rely on outsiders to toss cigarettes, drugs, or especially cell phones over the fence. An inmate will then collect the contraband later that day. Newsom said the understaffed prison guards are not able to maintain a constant watch the perimeter, especially at night.

“Although we have our roving units (patrols) that go around the facility, these folks are smart enough to know the times when they go by and the times when they’re not there,” Newsom said. South Carolina lawmakers approved the construction of two guard towers at Lee this past year.

The Joint Legislative Bond Committee and Budget & Control Board would have to approve $12,000 in carryover funds to pay for design and study work on the new thermal imaging system. The JBRC was scheduled to hear the proposal Tuesday, but the meeting was canceled due to the winter weather. It has been rescheduled for February 25.

Corrections officials hope to save money by using inmate labor to install the system.