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Dear Editor: One best-practices approach to reducing prospects for violence in juvenile facilities, such as the brutality that occurred at Lincoln Hills, would require us to adopt “independent prison oversight.” Prison oversight involves transparency in the operations of a penal institution in order to permit independent monitoring of all operations of the institution. Such monitoring has been found not only to reduce the abuse of inmates by prison staff, but also to reduce staff-on-staff abuse. Simply put, research has shown that prison oversight helps to professionalize staff because many outside eyes are watching, and also to reduce recidivism. This is key when one considers that it can cost up to $106,000 per year to keep a juvenile in state prison.

In other places, there are many different types of oversight mechanisms. These range from independent inspectorates, to various types of commissions, to ombudsmen, to federally funded protection and advocacy organizations, as well as independent lay community boards.

Regardless of the type, there are several ingredients of effective monitoring oversight including (1) that the oversight mechanism must be independent of a department of corrections. Otherwise, the department will surely try to control or pressure the monitoring mechanism. (2) The monitoring body must have unrestrained access to all facilities, prisoners, staff, and documents and be able to access these at any time, day or night, without prior notice. (3) Regular inspections must be mandatory. (4) The monitoring body must have an adequate budget that it controls, adequate staffing, and office space. (5) The department of corrections must be statutorily ordered to cooperate fully with the monitoring body and respond publicly to the body’s findings.

This formula has worked exceedingly well in other countries, especially in Europe.

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R.L. NcNeely


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