Preventive monitoring of conditions in American prisons can help shine a light on what needs to change, writes the LBJ School's Michele Deitch for the Brennan Center for Justice. Her essay is part of the center’s series examining the punitive excess that has come to define America's criminal legal system.
"...[M]ost of the Western world has recognized that the protection of human rights in prisons demands transparency and the routine monitoring of conditions. Almost every country in the European Union, for example, has a government entity designated as a 'National Preventive Mechanism,' responsible for inspecting all places of detention and reporting publicly on conditions. These entities shine a light on correctional institutions and help normalize discussions among policymakers and corrections officials about human rights in prison, and about the protection of the dignity of people who are incarcerated.
"But the United States is an anomaly on the world stage. Prisons and jails in this country are among the most opaque public institutions in our society. We have erected massive walls and razor wire fences around these buildings, placed them in remote corners of each state, limited public access to these spaces, and restricted information that can reveal what is happening inside the walls. We lack reliable data pertinent to the health, safety, and well-being of people in custody, and cannot even assess the relative safety or danger of any particular facility. Information about deaths in custody remains elusive in many states. Even data about the spread and toll of COVID-19 behind bars is spotty and unreliable, and is virtually nonexistent in local jails. In contrast to our peer nations, most states in this country lack oversight mechanisms that can prevent harm in prisons and jails by allowing independent officials to routinely monitor conditions of confinement."
Today, we publish @mydeitch's essay highlighting how the US is an outlier in the opacity of our prisons and jails, and how independent oversight can “deny elected officials the option of remaining purposefully ignorant about correctional conditions”: https://t.co/eiW8OQrOuY— Lauren-Brooke (L.B.) Eisen (@lbeisen) Nov. 3, 2021
NEW ESSAY ALERT: My essay, "Independent Oversight Is Essential for a Safe and Healthy Prison System," has been published in the @BrennanCenter's series on punitive excess in the US criminal justice system. It is short and accessible--please give it a read. @TheLBJSchool https://t.co/WgDZgGgCGE— Michele Deitch (@mydeitch) Nov. 3, 2021
Powerful essay by @mydeitch on the importance of independent oversight bodies to shine a light on what goes on in prisons & jails: "the presence of an outside observer changes what happens inside a prison environment. It also can show us who we really are." https://t.co/SInsb7I86w— Laura Rovner (@llrovner) Nov. 4, 2021
"But the US is an anomaly on the world stage...We lack reliable data pertinent to the health, safety, & well-being of people in custody. Information about deaths in custody remains elusive in many states."— chris kaiser (@chris__kaiser) Nov. 3, 2021
In La, studying jail deaths was a huge effort: https://t.co/CL3KWVPqw9 https://t.co/biJACjIGyy
Everything in this excellent essay by @mydeitch is true of Virginia DOC. I hope the incoming administration takes note and makes real oversight a priority next legislative session, to get it over the finish line. https://t.co/N1reuCsepR— Vishal Agraharkar (@v_agraharkar) Nov. 3, 2021