The Editorial Board discusses the need for correctional oversight, and quotes Michele on the increasing momentum across the country supporting the establishment of external correctional oversight bodies.
Published as part of the Brennan Center for Justice’s series on punitive excess, Michele identifies independent correctional oversight as a critical but often overlooked tool that provides a window into one of our most opaque public institutions, one that denies elected officials the option of remaining purposefully ignorant about correctional conditions.
In a first-of-its-kind analysis, “Dead Man Waiting,” shows that while deaths among parole-approved people increased during the COVID period, this population was already dying in large numbers from other chronic health issues while awaiting release. The report was the subject of a full-length NBC News NOW story, featuring families of people who died after parole approval, as well as several other prominent news outlets.
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.
Using a grading rubric we developed from key metrics every state should be reporting with respect to COVID in correctional facilities, “Hidden Figures” reveals a troubling lack of transparency about data regarding the spread, toll and management of COVID-19 in state prisons, local jails and state-run juvenile facilities. The report also offers a set of recommendations on ways corrections agencies and state and local leaders could improve data transparency.
The ultimate lesson of the COVID crisis in our prisons and jails is this: Addressing the issues it has surfaced is not just a good idea, it is a moral imperative. We need to have the vision and courage to correct corrections and work toward a system that is more worthy of our values and ideals—one that uses a public health lens to help build resiliency. For that is the true underpinning of a safer community.
Raising Arizona’s commitment to a safe and healthy prison system fundamentally requires several steps: (1) reducing the size of the incarcerated population; (2) treating all people who live and work in these facilities with dignity and respect; (3) shifting from a punitive culture toward a rehabilitative approach; (4) providing sufficient funding to support safe physical conditions, access to physical and mental health care, rehabilitative programming, and adequate numbers of well-trained staff; and (5) ensuring meaningful and permanent independent oversight of the prison system.
As the PLRA hits age fifteen, it is high time for us to recognize that states need to create a more sustainable and effective model of correctional oversight than the courts can provide. This oversight function is critical, and the PLRA should not be allowed to slam the iron gates shut on prisons and render their operations invisible to the public eye.
In preparation for the conference ―Opening Up a Closed World: What Constitutes Effective Prison Oversight?,‖ held at the University of Texas in 2006, graduate students in my seminar on ―Prisons and Human Rights‖ embarked on a major group effort to compile and review the literature dealing with independent oversight of prisons and to develop an annotated bibliography of this material.