"Oversight, Accountability, and Other Issues" 

February 8-9, 2006, Los Angeles, CA


The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons held its fourth hearing on February 8 and 9 in Los Angeles, California, focusing on the crucial role of oversight. The hearing was open to the public. Invited witnesses debated whether America's prisons and jails are transparent in the way that public institutions should be and discussed what the public should but doesn't know about life behind bars. They described in detail why it is important to strengthen both internal and external oversight of correctional facilities and practical ways of achieving that goal. The hearing also explored gang and drug activity behind bars. Witnesses discussed why prisoners join gangs, explained the relationship between gangs and violence, both inside facilities and in the community; and described cutting-edge programs designed to curb gang activity. 

Ten veteran corrections professionals testified, including California Corrections Secretary Roderick Hickman; American Correctional Association President Gwendolyn Chunn; Federal Bureau of Prisons Director Harley Lappin; and Michael Ashe, who has served for 31 years as the elected sheriff of Hampden County, Massachusetts. 

The Commission also heard from individuals who monitor correctional systems from the outside, including California's new Inspector General Matthew Cate, former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, who chaired the Governor's Commission on Corrections Reform; Federal Judge Myron Thompson; William Yeomans, who supervised litigation at the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division for 29 years; Anne Owers, Great Britain's Chief Inspector of Prisons, and several others. Scholars, other national experts, and former prisoners and gang members are among the thirty-some witnesses who testified. 


Transcripts of the complete proceedings of Hearing 4 can be downloaded in PDF format for both Day 1 and Day 2. Alternatively, you can download transcripts of each witness panel as separate PDFs. 

When & Where
Wednesday, February 8 and Thursday, February 9, 2006
St. Robert's Auditorium, Loyola Marymount University
1 LMU Drive
Los Angeles, CA 90045

"Oversight, accountability, and other issues "

February 8, 2006

Opening Statements and Welcoming Remarks 
(Download transcript)

Laurie L. Levenson, Loyola Law School Professor and Director of the Center for Ethical Advocacy
Hon. John J. Gibbons, Commission Co-Chair
Roderick Q. Hickman, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Personal Accounts
 (Download transcript)
Pernell Brown—A former member of the Bloods street gang who now works with the Oregon Department of Corrections and with community-based organizations to reduce gang violence among adults returning to the community from prison. He served seven years in prison for a violent felony conviction.
Gary Johnson—A career employee of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice—advancing from corrections officer to assistant warden to Executive Director. During that time the Texas system was under federal oversight.
Victoria Wright—Victoria Wright's husband of 33 years, Jay Wright, was convicted of a white collar crime and sentenced to three years in prison. He died three months later, in August 2005, while incarcerated in the High Desert correctional facility in Susanville, California. Victoria Wright testified that the department of corrections did not provide the medication her husband depended on, despite a documented history of heart trouble—including two prior heart attacks.

Addressing Violence: Gang Affiliation and Drugs (Download transcript)
This panel explored the complicated reality of gang violence by looking at the breadth of the problem, the reasons prisoners join gangs and how they function within correctional facilities, and the links between prison gangs and gangs on the street. The panel also discussed some of the ways correctional agencies can preempt and respond to dangerous gang activity.
Daniel "Nane" Alejandrez—A former prisoner, Mr. Alejandrez is Executive Director of Barrios Unidos ("United Neighborhoods"), a national community-based peace movement headquartered in Santa Cruz, California, that addresses youth, violence, and gangs. He explained why prisoners join gangs and suggested how prison programming that promotes cultural and spiritual traditions and that supports families and communities can minimize the influence of gangs.
Dr. James M. Byrne—A Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, he has conducted research on the causes, prevention, and control of institutional violence and disorder. He described the results of an initiative by the National Institute of Corrections to improve conditions in prison by changing staff culture and compared it with alternative reform strategies that focus on services to and programming for inmates.
Anthony M. Delgado—Security Threat Group Investigation Coordinator at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. He discussed an incentive-based program the department developed to reduce gang membership. This program is in its pilot phase and is designed to meet client needs inside and outside the facility.

Lunch Break 

Transparency in American Corrections (Download transcript
This panel explored the key components of transparency and whether America's jails and prisons are more or less transparent to the public than other U.S. government institutions and correctional agencies in other countries. Aspects of transparency which were explored include: the availability of data and records and the meaningfulness of that information; the openness of institutions to visits by citizens and nongovernmental organizations; and openness to the press.
Silvia Casale—President of the Counsel of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT). She discussed transparency as a means of protecting prisoners from abuse and ensuring safety; described the CPT's inspection and oversight regime and its virtues; and compared the CPT's work (and that of member states) with approaches to oversight in the United States.
Gwendolyn C. Chunn—President of the American Correctional Association and former Director of the North Carolina Division of Youth Services. She shared her view that transparency is a value that is widely embraced by corrections administrators and that must be further embraced by the public and their elected representatives so that prisons and jails can focus on rehabilitating people.
Walter Dickey—Former Secretary of Corrections for the state of Wisconsin in the 1980s and now court-appointed monitor at Wisconsin's supermax facility and professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School. He argued that American correctional agencies are less transparent than their equivalents in other western democracies; discussed the kinds of information these agencies should provide—and what the public should demand; and explained why security is not a sufficient justification for withholding information.

Governmental Oversight of Prisons and Jails (Download transcript
This panel explored how governments aim to oversee correctional systems, commenting on the strengths and weaknesses of various models. These oversight models include: ombudsmen, inspectors general, offices of independent review, as well as oversight in the form of local criminal prosecution and the civil and criminal work of state attorneys general and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Matthew Cate—Inspector General of California responsible for investigating and auditing the state's Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. He described how California came to revamp its principal governmental oversight mechanism, the Office of the Inspector General. He explained how they developed a robust model grounded in statute and based on principles of transparency and independence. That independence flows from the office operating outside of the corrections department and insulated from the legislative and executive branches of government.
Michele Deitch—Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. She provided an overview of the forms of governmental oversight, both within and outside departments of corrections. She also identified principles that should guide oversight structures—such as independence from corrections and from the executive and legislative branches, adequate resources, and separation from enforcement mechanisms—and offer examples of successful models.
William Yeomans—Former supervisor of litigation at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and presently Director of Programs at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. He described how DOJ oversees state prisons and local jails through civil litigation and criminal prosecution—providing statistics on the number of complaints and allegations the department receives, the number investigated, and the number that result in litigation—and discussed both the importance and limits of this form of oversight. He recommended ways to strengthen these tools.

February 9, 2006

Collaborative Oversight of the Los Angeles County Jails (Download transcript)
Jody Kent—Coordinator of the ACLU of Southern California's Jails Project in the Los Angeles County jails. She described the ways in which the ACLU's court-ordered presence within the jails benefits prisoners, corrections staff and managers, policymakers, and the courts.

Welcoming Remarks (Download transcript)
Senator Gloria Romero, speaking on behalf of the Commission.

Creating the Conditions for Positive Change
 (Download transcript)
This panel focused on developing consensus about what forms of fundamental change are necessary to make prisons and jails safer, more humane, and therefore more effective correctional institutions. It explored the underlying conditions necessary to make reform "stick," the political and social obstacles to meaningful reform, and how to overcome them. Ultimately, the witnesses broadened our sense of what is possible and how to achieve it.
Merrick Bobb—Court-appointed monitor for the past seven years of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the nation's largest jail system, and President of the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC).
Scott Harshbarger—Former Massachusetts Attorney General and Chair of the Governor's Commission on Corrections Reform. He later led the Commonwealth's Department of Correction Advisory Council created to assure implementation of the Commission's main recommendations. He talked about his experience in both roles, describing progress and setbacks, and commented more broadly on the role of commissions, legislative action, and public opinion in achieving lasting reform.
Dora Schriro—Director of Corrections in Arizona and former Director in Missouri. She described the fundamental ways in which America's approach to incarceration must change and how to foster that change. Specifically, she described her efforts to create a "parallel universe" where prison life models pro-social life in the community, and made a case for real partnerships among prisoners, correctional staff, crime victims, law makers, and the public in that public safety reform agenda.

How the Corrections Profession Creates Accountability (Download transcript)
This panel explored how the corrections profession aims to hold itself accountable through good management; data collection, analysis and dissemination; internal auditing; and professional accreditation—highlighting best practices in internal accountability. Witnesses addressed the ways in which good management functions like oversight, the difference between "standard setting" and internal audits compared with external oversight, and whether best practices are followed in U.S. prisons and jails.
Michael J. Ashe, Jr.—Elected Sheriff of Hampden County, Massachusetts for 31 years. Sheriff Ashe described how he has sought to create accountability to the community by making the jail an abuse-free and productive environment for change: requiring inmates to engage in 40 hours a week of work and programming, offering incentives for early release and community supervision, and bringing community health care providers into the facility to assure the quality and continuity of care.
Harley G. Lappin—Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). He described the extensive systems within the Bureau of Prisons that aim to achieve accountability at every level. In particular, he discussed how the BOP analyzes assaults and other safety concerns; evaluates the performance of correctional leaders, and assesses the effectiveness of grievance procedures for inmates.
A.T. Wall—Director of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, where he runs both prisons and jails statewide. He described correctional institutions as self-contained societies where an imbalance of power pervades and explained why recognizing this reality is key to ensuring accountability. He discussed ways to balance the need for greater openness with the genuine security concerns openness can present.

Lunch Break

Independent Governmental Oversight—A Model from Britain (Download transcript)
Anne Owers—Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons. She explained how the United Kingdom has come to embrace independent oversight of its prisons, where the Inspectorate remains separate from the correctional agency yet collaborates with it, and described the regular, detailed, unannounced inspections her agency undertakes and their basis in a set of "expectations," rather than minimal standards. She contrasted that approach with her observations of oversight in this country and elsewhere.

Litigation as Oversight (Download transcript
This panel explored the role of non-governmental litigation in prison and jail oversight — its strengths and limits. Witnesses addressed how courts weigh evidence of abuse and on what basis judges decide intervention is warranted. The panel also explored the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) and the impact of this far-reaching statute on the ability of federal courts to protect prisoners' rights and ensure that correctional systems comply with constitutional standards.
Alvin J. Bronstein—Director Emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project, which he founded in 1972. He described how litigation and court-ordered monitoring have been and, although somewhat diminished, continue to be the principal means of overseeing American jails and prisons—commenting on their effectiveness and limitations, especially in light of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA).
Stephen F. Hanlon—A partner at the law firm of Holland & Knight and pro bono counsel in numerous class action lawsuits about unsafe and abusive conditions in prison. He focused on the effects of the PLRA: barring prisoners from the courts until they exhaust all administrative remedies, limiting compensation for attorneys, prohibiting lawsuits that seek damages for mental or emotional injuries absent a physical injury, and limiting the breadth and duration of court monitoring.
Judge Myron H. Thompson—Judge Thompson serves on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama and has presided over cases involving severe overcrowding, gross medical neglect, and other unconstitutional conditions in prison. He argued that federal constitutional litigation is necessary to ensure that prisoners are protected from abusive prison and jail conditions. He also described the many legal rules that affect whether a prisoner may prevail in litigation, regardless of the merits of his or her claims.

Beyond Government Oversight (Download transcript
Oversight can come in many forms, not always through formal governmental mechanisms within or outside correctional agencies. This panel explored some of the ways that non-governmental organizations seek to hold correctional agencies accountable—from giving prisoners a voice with legislatures and the press to empowering families to advocate for their incarcerated loved ones to engaging citizens in visiting and reporting on prison and jail conditions. The panel also examined the ways in which non-governmental organizations and individual citizens can work collaboratively with correctional administrators.
Jack Beck—Director of the Prison Visiting Project of the Correctional Association of New York and formerly a senior attorney at the Prisoners Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society of New York. He described the Correctional Association, its activities, and its relationship with the Department of Correctional Services, the state legislature, and the public. He argued that the Association fills a gap in the state government's patchwork of oversight mechanisms and presented preliminary findings from an Association study about violence in New York prisons.
Katherine Hall-Martinez—Co-Executive Director of Stop Prisoner Rape (SPR). She described the public advocacy work of SPR, which is based on making the voices of people who have survived sexual assault in prison heard. She described the flow of information SPR receives and how these voices — otherwise largely unheard—form the basis of their efforts to assure that good statutes, regulations, and policies are established and that they are then fully implemented.
A. Sage Smith—A former prisoner, he is an advisory board member of the John Howard Association, one of the oldest citizens groups monitoring prisons, and Director of Client Services at the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. He described the work of citizens groups and their informal oversight function. Speaking from personal experience, Mr. Smith described the critical role outside groups play in reducing stress and decreasing violence in prisons and jails by bringing programming, education, and the hope for successful reentry.
Leslie Walker—Executive Director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services. She described the oversight functions the office undertakes, including the Rapid Response to Brutality Project, in which her office sends attorneys with cameras to immediately capture the results of staff violence against prisoners. She described how they use those photos and accounts of abuse to advocate for reform with the corrections department, the legislature, and through the press to the public.

Closing Statement (Download transcript
Hon. John J. Gibbons—Commission Co-Chair


The Commission on Safety & Abuse in America's Prisons would like to thank the law firm of Heller Ehrman and its dedicated attorneys who contributed countless hours to the preparation of this hearing. 

The Commission also thanks TSG Reporting, Inc. for its donation of transcription services. 

Finally, the Commission is very grateful to Loyola Marymount University for both hosting the Commission hearing and giving so generously its time and resources to planning the event. Special thanks to Father Lawton, Trish Carlson, and the students of the Center for Service in Action. 

Additional Statements

Mark S. Fleisher
—Director of the Begun Center for Violence Prevention, Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University; and
Malcolm Young—Executive Director of the John Howard Association of Illinois, both submitted written statements to the Commission in lieu of testifying in person.