Leonard Strickland’s unnecessary death at the hands of prison guards at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York highlights the need for independent oversight of the state's prisons, write Michele Deitch and Michael Mushlin in the New York Times. Strickland’s beating in 2010 is the latest in a long list of instances of brutality toward inmates in the state. New York’s inhumane practices involving solitary confinement have also generated outrage, which was followed by a settlement announced last month of a lawsuit that will reduce both the number of inmates held in isolation and the maximum stay, and will abolish some of the harshest conditions.
The writers contend that additional governmental oversight is urgently needed to truly change the culture of a system that holds 53,000 inmates across 54 prisons. What goes on inside these prisons is largely hidden from view, and there is little accountability for wrongdoing, they say. “New York's prison system operates almost entirely below the radar,” say Deitch and Mushlin. “This invisibility should end by setting up a system of effective independent governmental oversight to ensure the health and safety of prisoners. If harm is to be prevented in these dark places, we must know what is happening inside.” Nationally, the situation is not better. Abuse of prison inmates appears to be endemic in Florida, prison rape is widespread across the U.S., and the hanging death in a Texas jail cell of Sandra Bland, who was arrested after a routine traffic stop, highlighted the national problem of suicide in custody. During a movement for increased police accountability, “the need for transparency and accountability is even more urgent in the nation's jails and prisons, given their closed environments and lack of cellphones and body cameras to capture abusive encounters,” say Deitch and Mushlin.