Latest issue of Pace Law Review provides blueprint for critically-needed prison oversight in United States

Offers views from academics, human rights lawyers, and national and international corrections experts.

WHITE PLAINS, NY, December 7, 2010 The United States has, by far, the highest incarceration rate of any developed country on the planet, yet its prisons remain largely hidden worlds. Unlike many Western countries, which have systems for inspecting and reporting on prison conditions, the U.S. lacks formal and comprehensive external oversight mechanisms to regularly monitor prisons and jails.

Now, a newly released issue of the Pace Law Review, “Opening up a Closed World: A Sourcebook on Prison Oversight,” offers a comprehensive look at prison oversight, including articles from leading academics, national and international corrections experts, and prisoners’ rights and human rights lawyers. Together, this diverse group calls for a national conversation on this important subject, and offers insights and practical ideas for how oversight could be accomplished in the American context.

“There’s a growing consensus on the need for oversight, but until now there has not been a focused conversation about how to do it. We intend this law review to be a blueprint for how the American people can create, for the first time in the United States, effective oversight strategies for our nation’s prisons and jails,” said Pace Law Professor Michael Mushlin, who collaborated on the law review with Michele Deitch, senior lecturer at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

As a result of a lack of proper oversight in the U.S., overcrowding, neglect, insufficient medical care for inmates, and other serious problems plague many prisons, which are addressed only when they become so dire that the courts must intervene. The Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case about the substandard conditions in California’s prisons, including long-standing constitutional violations in medical and mental health treatment. According to Professor Mushlin, “with effective oversight these crises can be prevented allowing taxpayer’s money to be better spent.”

Professor Deitch concurred, noting that “external scrutiny is essential for ensuring transparency in prison operations and accountability for the treatment of prisoners. All public institutions demand such oversight.”

Among the topics covered in the law review are articles that:

  • Examine the core functions of effective prison oversight
  • Describe the overcrowding crisis in California’s prison system, the country’s largest
  • Review a variety of international models of prison oversight
  • Discuss effective models that have been established in the United States
  • Present an inventory of existing correctional oversight mechanisms in all 50 states

The law review follows two conferences on prison reform held in 2003 and 2006—the first at Pace Law School in White Plains, N.Y., and the second held at the University of Texas at Austin and co-sponsored by Pace Law . The Pace conference in 2003 was the first ever national meeting that brought together prison administrators, prison reform advocates, and other stakeholders in a non-adversarial setting to discuss prison reform. The 2006 Texas conference, which focused specifically on prison oversight, drew experts and practitioners from 23 states, the District of Columbia and four foreign countries. Both were organized jointly by Mushlin and Deitch.

The conversation has begun

Since the 2003 conference, the push for effective external prison oversight has gained traction, with the New York Times calling for prison oversight in an editorial; the American Bar Association passing a resolution calling for oversight of prisons and jails in the United States; the Vera Institute of Justice establishing the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons; and the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission proposing an auditing mechanism for ensuring agency compliance with standards to prevent the occurrence of prison rape.

But the work is far from over. As Mushlin and Deitch write in their introductory article, this publication demonstrates “that external oversight of American prisons is needed, that it is practical, and that it is essential to good correctional practice. Once effective oversight structures are established on a comprehensive basis, such oversight will yield tangible benefits to prisoners, corrections staff, and the public. This is an idea whose time has come…”.

Pace University School of Law has over 7,000 alumni throughout the country and the world, and is consistently ranked among the nation’s top four programs in environmental law. On its White Plains, NY, campus, it offers JD programs and the Master of Laws degree in Environmental Law, including the nation’s first graduate level programs in Climate Change and Land Use and Sustainable Development, and Comparative Legal Studies, and a Doctor of Laws in Environmental Law. The School of Law is part of Pace University, a comprehensive, independent, and diversified university with campuses in New York City and Westchester County.

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