Updating and expanding upon Michele’s 50-state inventory of prison oversight models published in 2010, this article provides background information about the nature, value, and history of correctional oversight; documents the shifting landscape and increasing momentum around the oversight issue over the last decade; and provides a comprehensive assessment of the state of prison and jail oversight in the US today.
Seventeen states have no rules or oversight mechanisms for local jails, according to Reuters research and a pending study by Michele Deitch, a corrections specialist at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. In five other low-population states, all detention facilities are run by state corrections agencies. The other 28 have some form of standards, such as assessing inmates’ health on arrival or checking on suicidal inmates at prescribed intervals. Yet those standards often are minimal, and in at least six of the states, the agencies that write them lack enforcement power or the authority to refer substandard jails for investigation.
This essay explains what is meant by the term “oversight” and frames it as an umbrella concept encompassing many distinct functions, including regulation, audit, accreditation, investigation, legal, reporting, and inspection/monitoring. The piece calls for a robust system of correctional oversight that is multi-faceted and multi-layered.