U.S. prisons could benefit from more outside oversight, experts agreed this week at a conference on the issue. “Oversight makes you better,” said Martin Horn, corrections director in New York City. “The more you open up your prisons and jails, the better it serves you.” Roderick Hickman, the recently resigned corrections chief in California, agreed. “People need to know the condition of prisons that people live and work in,” he told “Opening Up a Closed World: What Constitutes Effective Prison Oversight.” The meeting at the University of Texas was sponsored by the university’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and Pace Law School in New York State.
Conferees discussed various oversight methods, including independent government inspectors used in Great Britain and California, accreditation of facilities by the American Correctional Association, Ohio’s legislative prison inspecion committee, and citizens groups such as the Correctional Association of New York, the Pennsylvania Prison Society, and Illinois’s John Howard Association. Prisons are better than they used to be, but the public does not want to pay for improvements or for inmates to be released, said Jeffrey Beard, Pennsylvania corrections secretary. Beard fears that public disinterest, combined with state government budget shortfalls, will mean a deterioration of prison conditions.