Ports of Protection at the Hillsborough Co. Jail

by Drew R. Hamilton

Lieutenant Scott Smith, the Hillsborough County Jail Shift Commander, took the Public Affairs Reporting class on a detailed tour of the county jail.

Getting an in-depth look inside the everyday workings of the county jail can allow aspiring journalists to view a side of life that many have not.

Taking responsibility for inmates is a huge liability for the county.  The cameras and recording devices around the jail not only serve to protect the inmates but also to protect the guards and employees.

Lt. Smith pointed out that all telephone calls that transpire over the phones, inside the jail, are recorded and monitored.  He even pointed out the signs warning inmates of the possibility of having their phone calls recorded.

Footage captured inside jail hallways and common areas, according to Lt. Smith, are stored for up to two weeks before they are discarded for newly captured footage.  However, footage of an individual being booked is saved for at least 49 months, in order to protect both the inmate and the jail from a “he said; she said” argument over excessive force or some other legal dispute.

This footage came in handy for journalists in the case of Brian Sterner in 2008.  Sterner was dumped out of his wheelchair, while in the process of being booked into the Hillsborough County Jail.  Sterner, a quadriplegic, was able to prove that he was the recipient of excessive force, thanks to the booking footage captured by jail video cameras.

As Lt. Smith stated, “anything that can happen in the outside world, can happen inside the jail,” the documentation and footage captured inside the jail is used to protect both the county from fraudulent accusations of abuse and the inmates from excessive force.

New charges occur inside the walls of correctional institutions on a daily basis.  The documentation, which becomes public record at some point, allows journalists access to what occurs inside the jail.

The role of journalists, as executors of the “Fourth Estate”, is to protect the public from the powers-at-be.  Access to records and documentation at the jail only helps to aid them in this function.

Published in: on February 9, 2011 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

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