The Impact of Correctional CCTV Cameras on Infractions and Investigations: A Synthetic Control Approach to Evaluating Surveillance System Upgrades in a Minnesota Prison

Published date01 October 2022
Date01 October 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(8) 843 –869
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221093226
The Impact of Correctional
CCTV Cameras on Infractions
and Investigations: A
Synthetic Control Approach
to Evaluating Surveillance
System Upgrades in a
Minnesota Prison
Daniel S. Lawrence1, Bryce E. Peterson1,
Lily Robin2, and Rochisha Shukla2
Internal surveillance systems have long been used by prisons to combat misbehavior.
Yet, limited research has focused on cameras’ preventive potential, failing to
examine their utility in investigations. Using comparative interrupted time-series
analyses and synthetic control methods, this study evaluates the impact of upgrading
a surveillance system in a prison’s housing unit on total infractions and infractions
resulting in guilty dispositions. Upgrades were two-phased, allowing us to examine
the differential effects of replacing outdated cameras versus installing new cameras.
One comparison unit came from the same facility as the treatment unit, while the
other was synthetically generated from units in other prisons. We found limited
evidence that the interventions reduced infractions, though there was a stronger link
between the interventions and an increase in guilty dispositions, particularly from
the installation of new cameras to reduce blind spots. We discuss the implications of
these findings for policy and research.
surveillance, corrections, infractions, misconducts, synthetic control
1CNA Corporation, Arlington, VA, USA
2Urban Institute, Washington, DC, USA
Corresponding Author:
Daniel S. Lawrence, CNA Corporation, 3003 Washington Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22201-2194, USA.
1093226CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221093226Criminal Justice Policy ReviewLawrence et al.
844 Criminal Justice Policy Review 33(8)
Criminologists and philosophers have long studied and written about the role surveil-
lance plays in maintaining order in corrections facilities. In his influential 1971 book,
Bentham describes the panopticon as a radial prison in which cells are situated around
a central guard tower that gives officers a constant view of residents and thus deters
misbehavior (Bentham, 1971/2017; see also Foucault’s extension of the concept of
“panopticism,” 1977). In lieu of this direct supervision, modern prisons rely on video
surveillance systems to prevent and detect certain behaviors of incarcerated residents,
as well as generate evidence for the investigation of infractions (Allard et al., 2006). A
1989 survey of 105 prisons and 12 jails in the United States revealed that half of the
surveyed institutions were using internal surveillance tools like closed-circuit televi-
sion (CCTV) systems, while more recent scans of practice have confirmed that video
surveillance is widely used in corrections (Allard et al., 2008; Travis et al., 1989). Yet,
because of this long-standing use, many correctional agencies are now faced with the
challenge of updating their aging systems with newer, more sophisticated technology,
including high-definition cameras and software that allows officers to better manage
and optimize surveillance practices (Goodale et al., 2005; Shukla et al., 2021b).
Unfortunately, there is limited evidence to guide this push to install cameras and
upgrade existing systems. There have been only a few studies on correctional surveil-
lance systems, most of which were conducted outside of the United States. These
studies have also focused on the effectiveness of surveillance technologies in correc-
tional settings overall, with no research to date on agencies’ efforts to improve existing
systems. For example, a survey of 220 individuals incarcerated in a British prison
found that being in a housing unit with CCTV cameras reduced both self-reported
victimizations and offending behaviors, but that cameras did not improve overall per-
ceptions of safety (Bradshaw, 2002). Allard et al. (2008) examined Australian prisons
and found that more infractions occurred in areas not observed by cameras (64%) than
in areas with camera surveillance (36%). Debus-Sherrill and colleagues (2014) con-
ducted an evaluation of the impact surveillance cameras had in a large United States
jail and found that while CCTV cameras generally reduced incarcerated residents’
fears of victimization, they had no effect on the number of infractions.
The limitations and mixed findings of these studies underscore several areas of
inquiry that warrant further exploration. First, more research is needed on the impact
of surveillance systems within United States prisons, whose security and management
issues are undoubtedly different than those experienced by correctional facilities in
Europe and other parts of the world. The United States has the highest incarceration
rate in the world (Walmsley, 2018), which has creating living and working conditions
that are worse for the health and safety of corrections staff and incarcerated people
than the conditions of prisons in other countries (see Ahalt et al., 2020). Second, there
is a gap in understanding the impact of upgrading aging surveillance systems, which
often involve infrastructural improvements, the replacement of existing cameras, and/
or the installation of new cameras in strategic locations to reduce blind spots (Shukla
et al., 2021b). Prior research has not yet studied the degree to which such upgrades can

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