Spring 2016 - 60125 - PA680PB - Policy Research Project

Increasing Transparency & Accountability in the Criminal Justice System

The tragic events in Ferguson and Staten Island and the public outcry that followed led to a heightened awareness of racial injustice and brutality in the criminal justice system and increased calls for expanded oversight.  Yet most of the public conversation has been around law enforcement operations and, to a lesser degree, on sentencing practices; there has been little focus on the problems faced by individuals who are locked up in our nation’s prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities.  But correctional institutions are closed institutions responsible for every aspect of prisoners’ lives and well-being, and they are almost entirely lacking in public scrutiny.  Thus, the potential for abuse is even greater in those settings, and the need for increased transparency and accountability is even more urgent.  This PRP will build on the momentum around Ferguson by ensuring that issues involving conditions of confinement in prisons and jails and the need for independent correctional oversight are part of the public dialogue and reform movement.

The course will take up where a class I taught 10 years ago left off.  That course (“Prisons and Human Rights”) involved extensive student research into correctional oversight mechanisms around the United States and internationally, and the publications that resulted from that research are considered the leading resource materials in the field.  Much has happened in the intervening years:  among other things, the American Bar Association has developed policy calling on all jurisdictions to develop independent correctional oversight bodies; the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act Standards require routine audits of every correctional facility’s compliance with the standards; some states and counties have developed or are in the process of considering enhanced oversight of their prisons and jails; numerous extreme cases of brutality against prisoners have come to public attention; there is a movement growing against the use of solitary confinement in prisons; and public support has grown for criminal justice reform generally.

It is now time to update and expand the research we conducted 10 years ago, look into current efforts (especially in Florida and Los Angeles) to create oversight mechanisms in the wake of high-profile incidents of abuse, see how these issues play out in the juvenile context, and create some new resource materials.  We may also create an online clearinghouse on correctional oversight.  We may decide to hold a conference on these issues.  We will almost certainly visit some prisons, jails, and juvenile detention facilities to provide grounding for our work.

The goals of this class are to update and improve the available research and expand the dialogue around the issue of independent correctional oversight, and to give students the opportunity to have an influence on the development of this emerging area of criminal justice and juvenile justice reform. 

The Instructor for the PRP serves as Co-Chair of the American Bar Association’s Subcommittee on Independent Correctional Oversight, and this work will be conducted on behalf of the Subcommittee.

Students with a background in prison-related issues or with a special interest in this topic are encouraged to talk with the Instructor in advance of registration.