LBJ's Michele Deitch presents research on the importance of prison oversight and transparency at international conference | LBJ School of Public Affairs | The University of Texas at Austin

Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and an expert on criminal and juvenile justice, delivered a plenary presentation on prison oversight and human rights at the International Corrections and Prisons Association Conference in Montreal on Oct. 22.

"Beyond Prisons: The Way Forward" marks the 20th annual meeting of the conference, one of the correctional field's largest events, which examines the philosophies, strategic direction, challenges, policies and best practices of the prison and corrections community. More than 700 participants from 77 nations gathered at the event, including the heads of most countries' corrections agencies, government representatives, policymakers, experts, health care professionals, nonprofit groups, security and operations specialists and nongovernmental organizations.

"I have long been interested in this major international conference because of the high caliber of the participants—all very influential people in the corrections field from around the world," Deitch said. "I was truly honored that the organizers not only accepted my proposal but made my talk part of a plenary session, which brought greater visibility to important human rights issues in prison operations."

Michele Deitch and Michael B. Mushlin: What's Going On in Our Prisons? (New York Times, Jan. 4, 2016)

Deitch, an attorney with more than 30 years of experience in criminal justice policy issues who holds a joint appointment at the LBJ School and the University of Texas School of Law, focuses primarily on independent oversight of correctional institutions, prison conditions and management, and juvenile justice reform. She also co-chairs the American Bar Association's subcommittee on independent correctional oversight. She spoke as part of a panel with Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons for the UK, Canada's top appointed prison monitor, and the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Justice.

"It was so exciting to be able to share information about the ways that increased transparency and routine monitoring of prison conditions can better protect prisoner safety and help improve outcomes," Deitch said. "While external monitoring of prison conditions is standard practice in most Western nations, such oversight is still pretty rare at the state and county level in the U.S. and in much of the developing world. So I think our presentation was very eye-opening for many of the conference participants, who also learned about how oversight can benefit prison administrators."

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The conference also marked the inaugural convening of the Prison Oversight International Experts Network, of which Deitch is now a member. The network will share best practices in prison oversight and provide information for colleagues in the oversight field across the globe.

"I am hopeful that this conference presentation and the international experts network we created will mark the start of a more sustained and serious international examination of the crucial importance and benefits of external scrutiny of prison conditions," she said.

The conference featured more than 150 speakers discussing the challenges the industry faces, from improving the efficacy of imprisonment and community supervision, best uses of technology and sustaining staff commitment to strategies on community engagement and effectively using limited resources.

Deitch's current projects include assessing the current status of prison oversight entities in the U.S., developing metrics to assess the relative safety of prison facilities, and research on raising the age of criminal responsibility in Texas from 17 to 18. In 2016, Deitch convened 50 criminal justice experts at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum to examine how independent oversight could improve how prisons and jails are run and efforts to develop oversight bodies in the U.S.