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March 15, 2022

Brennan Center reviews "The Landscape of Recent State and County Correctional Oversight Efforts"

The Brennan Center has this notable new resource on prison oversight efforts with themes captured in this subtitle: "Since 2018, many jurisdictions have tried to strengthen transparency and accountability in their correctional systems with mixed results."  Here is part of its start (with links from the original):

Correc­tional insti­tu­tions — pris­ons and jails — are considered closed facil­it­ies. Few visit­ors gain access to these institutions, even though they house people for months, years, decades, and, some­times, entire life­times. As Justice Kennedy wrote in his 2015 concurrence to the Court’s opin­ion in Davis v. Ayala, “Pris­on­ers are shut away — out of sight, out of mind,” while their condi­tions of confine­ment are “too easily ignored” by the public and the legal academy.

These insti­tu­tions are also coer­cive envir­on­ments with marked power differ­en­tials between correc­tions staff and incarcer­ated people that make facil­it­ies ripe for abuse. Because jails and pris­ons exert total author­ity over indi­vidu­als’ bodies and liberty, trans­par­ency and account­ab­il­ity are neces­sary to ensure that facil­it­ies uphold their duty of care to respect the dignity of people who are imprisoned and ensure that pris­ons are safe and secure.

One way to achieve the goals of trans­par­ency and account­ab­il­ity, while ensur­ing safe and humane condi­tions of confinement, is a formal and inde­pend­ent system of over­sight of jail and prison oper­a­tions. As the Bren­nan Center has noted before, although the U.S. has more people behind bars than any other coun­try on the planet, “it lacks a cohes­ive or integ­rated system of over­sight for its vast network of pris­ons and jails.”

The coun­try currently has about 18 entit­ies over­see­ing pris­ons, such as the Correc­tional Asso­ci­ation of New York, the John Howard Asso­ci­ation in Illinois, and the Pennsylvania Prison Soci­ety. There are also a number of inde­pend­ent agen­cies that conduct prison over­sight housed within the exec­ut­ive branch of state govern­ments, such as the Office of the Inspector General in Cali­for­nia. Addi­tion­ally, a hand­ful of inde­pend­ent entit­ies over­see local jails, such as the New York City Board of Correc­tions and the Texas Commis­sion on Jail Stand­ards. Mean­while, most state pris­ons — through their own internal account­ab­il­ity mech­an­isms — rely on monit­ors who work for the very state correc­tional agen­cies that manage these facil­it­ies. The inher­ent prob­lem in this setup is that such internal account­ab­il­ity mech­an­isms lack inde­pend­ence.

This patch­work of over­sight provides insuf­fi­cient cover­age. And the public health crisis result­ing from the highly contagious and deadly Covid-19 virus has shone a spot­light on the preval­ence of inhu­mane condi­tions of confine­ment in America’s correc­tional facil­it­ies. These condi­tions pred­ated the pandemic but worsened in many jails and pris­ons after March 2020....

Inhu­mane condi­tions of confine­ment in Amer­ica’s pris­ons and jails continue to persist, and the nation is in dire need of more prevent­at­ive and inde­pend­ent correc­tional over­sight to rein these abuses in. This resource explores the land­scape of prison and jail over­sight reform since 2018. It high­lights both progress in strength­en­ing correc­tional over­sight and failed attempts to improve monit­or­ing of condi­tions inside these insti­tu­tions.

March 15, 2022 at 01:46 PM | Permalink


One of the biggest power differentials between staff and those who are incarcerated is the control the staff has over the physical body of those who are incarcerated. Strip and cavity searches are done at will.

Whenever a federal prisoner has a family visit they are stripped and must bend over. This procedure is done on the way into the visiting room and is repeated at the end of the visit. This practice alone leads to lack of respect and dignity for the incarcerated.

Posted by: beth curtis | Mar 16, 2022 1:13:57 PM

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