No Prisoner Left Behind? Enhancing Public Transparency of Penal Institutions

Article excerpt

Prisoners suffer life-long debilitating effects from their incarceration, making them a subordinated class of people for life. This Article examines how prison conditions facilitate the creation and maintenance of a permanent underclass and concludes that enhancing transparency is the first step towards equality. Anti-subordination efforts led to enhanced transparency in schools, a similar but not identical institution. This Article argues that federal school transparency measures provide a rudimentary and balanced framework for enhancing prison transparency through the collection of specific institutional data.

INTRODUCTION
I.   CURRENT EFFECTS OF INCARCERATION
II.  SCHOOLS AND PRISONS AS COMPARABLE INSTITUTIONS
     A. Facial Similarities
     B. Deference to Administrators
     C. Duties and Obligations of Administrators
     D. Similar but Not Identical
III. ENDING PERMANENT INEQUALITY IN SCHOOLS
     A. Initial Steps
     B. The No Child Left Behind Act
IV.  TRANSPARENCY (AND THE LACK THEREOF)
     A. Transparency Defined
     B. Lack of Transparency in Penal Facilities
     C. More Transparency?
V.   ENHANCING PENAL INSTITUTION TRANSPARENCY
     A. Critical Data to Address Incarceration Inequality
        1. Physical Safety
        2. Medical
        3. Institutional Employment/Education
        4. Internal Discipline
        5. Recidivism
     B. A Federal Approach to Collecting Data
CONCLUSION

INTRODUCTION

   When a sheriff or a marshall [sick] takes a man from the courthouse
   in a prison van and transports him to confinement for two or three
   or ten years, this is our act. We have tolled the bell for him. And
   whether we like it or not, we have made him our collective
   responsibility. We are free to do something about him; he is not.
   (1)

The public has little idea what happens behind prison walls. Prisons and jails are essentially "closed institutions holding an ever-growing disempowered population." (2) In a democratic country such as the United States, however, prisons are administered in our name and on our behalf. Prison is a critical, but neglected, element of our criminal justice system. There is at least a professed, if perhaps unrealized, commitment to transparency in our prosecution of crime. (3) Statutes criminalizing conduct and detailing potential terms of punishment are (ideally) debated and decided in public by the legislature. Police often call for public assistance and tips when crimes occur. Police departments can be held publicly accountable for increased crime, officer misconduct, and failures to investigate. The courtroom doors are open to any interested individual. (4) Criminal trials are structurally hardwired to involve the community through the selection and empowerment of residents as jurors. (5) After the trial, however, even our professed commitment to transparency stops. While we, as a society, may have participated in the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of the crime, society is practically barred from evaluating the punishment itself.

Yet, it is vitally important that prison operations be transparent. Like the investigative and trial aspects of the criminal justice system, prison operations are administered for the greater democracy. This Article explores the social, economic, and constitutional reasons underlying the need for greater transparency. At its core, this Article argues that if the goal of a prison system is both punishment and rehabilitation, our prisons are failing institutions that result in the creation and maintenance of a racial and socio-economic underclass. Enhanced transparency of prison operations is essential for achieving a more just and safe democracy.

Millions of lives are at stake. As of January 2014, approximately 2.2 million people are incarcerated in prisons and jails nationwide. (6) Nationally, local jails admit approximately ten million people annually and state and federal prisons admit approximately seven hundred thousand people a year. …

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