A private commission yesterday began a year-long examination of violence, sexual abuse, overcrowding, and inhumane treatment in U.S. prisons, the Washington Post reports. The investigation was prompted partly by reports of misconduct by U.S. corrections officers assigned to serve in military detention centers overseas. The panel is headed by former attorney general Nicholas deB. Katzenbach and John J. Gibbons, a former federal appeals court judge. Its aim is to recommend prison reforms from local to federal levels after holding at least four public hearings.
Among problems the commission cited: More than 34,000 assaults were committed by prisoners against other inmates in a 12-month period covering parts of 1999 and 2000; prisoner assaults against staff rose 27 percent higher in that period; more than a million people were sexually assaulted in prisons over the past two decades; corrections officers have reduced life expectancies and higher rates of alcoholism than other law enforcement officers. No mandatory national standards exist for prisons, many of which are now run by private contractors. The 21-member commission includes psychiatrists, criminologists and law professors; a former U.S. attorney and Tennessee sheriff; a former death row inmate exonerated by DNA evidence; a former mayor of New Orleans; a senior California lawmaker; former FBI director William Sessions, and the head of the NAACP’s Washington office. It was organized by the New York City-based Vera Institute of Justice. Staff director is Alexander Busansky, a former counsel to Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and Justice Department attorney handling excessive-force cases involving corrections officers. Its financing comes from the Open Society Institute, three law firms, and the JEHT Foundation.