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View From the Witness Chair

NCJ Number
Prison Journal Volume: 65 Issue: 1 Dated: (Spring-Summer 1985) Pages: 18-25
J P Conrad
Date Published
8 pages
A penologist describes the contrast between past and present procedures for inmate discipline and concludes that the changes resulting from prison litigation have benefited prisoners but that further efforts are needed by the penal establishment itself to eliminate the unacceptable conditions for many prisoners.
Prison administrators used to pay no attention to prisoners' rights or the content of their grievances. However, a transformation has now occurred in disciplinary committee proceedings, resulting from the Federal courts' change from their hands-off policy toward prisons. However, prison litigation today causes problems because it focuses on one institution at a time. The elimination of a problem at one prison often means its transfer to another prison; relieving of overcrowding is a good example of this. It is also puzzling that expert testimony is required regarding prison conditions that are unacceptable even to nonexperts and that prison administrators and State officials contest litigation about obvious problems. A more comprehensive approach to prison reform is needed, so that reforms benefit all institutions. In addition, permanent efforts are needed to monitor prison conditions. Penal systems must provide internal remedies for abuse. Possibilities are the ombudsman, the inspector-general, and effective grievance systems. A grievance system is potentially the most useful of these mechanisms.