Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights, testified on February 7, 2017 before the Connecticut Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as part of their scheduled Briefing on Solitary Confinement.
Prof. Mushlin has been advocating for more humane conditions in state and federal prisons and jails, he has testified in the past, and written extensively on the topic. He has been consistently calling to ban the use of solitary confinement in prisons and jails coupled with instituting an external and independent oversight to ensure the reform is sustained.
NPR North Carolina ran a story about prison oversight featuring Prof. Michael B. Mushlin of Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University who has been tirelessly advocating for meaningful prison oversight. The level and extent of brutality occurring behind the walls of many prisons is unimaginable, and the fact that many if not all of the incidents go unreported, un-investigated, and unpunished makes these situations even more dire.
BY: Michael B. Mushlin, Professor of Law at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, Scholar, and Renowned Expert on Prisoners’ Rights.
The tragic and shocking shocking death of Terrill Thomas reminds us — as if we need reminding — that prisons and jails are places that need careful oversight. Without oversight, as Kafka warned over a century ago horrors will inevitably occur. Yet in America, sadly, there is little meaningful oversight of our penal institutions. That has to change or there will be more and more needless and cruel deaths to mourn.
The purpose of the 2015 Assembly Bill No. 9939 is summarized as follows:
[This Bill] creates the office of the correctional ombudsman to achieve transparency, fairness, impartiality, and accountability in New York state correctional facilities; relates to reports by coroners; designates investigators of the office of the correctional ombudsman as peace officers; authorizes the attorney general to investigate the alleged commission of any criminal offense committed by an employee of the department of corrections and community supervision in connection with his or her official duties; relates to the confidentiality of certain records; and includes the office of the correctional ombudsman records within the definition of public safety agency records; makes related provisions.
Prof. Mushlin concludes his letter with a quote from the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy from his 2003 speech to the American Bar Association:
It is no defense if our current prison syste is more the product of neglect than of purpose. Out of sight, out of mind is an unacceptable excuse for a prison system that incarcerates over two million human beings in the United States.
A recent investigation by The New York Times into the death of a prisoner, Leonard Strickland, at Clinton Correctional Facility reveals a savage beating by correction officers, horrifying indifference to the prisoner’s condition by medical personnel, lying by the corrections officers involved, and a total absence of any sanctions or systemic response. The biggest shock comes from the claim that a handcuffed and viciously beaten prisoner was a continuing threat or presented a potential for escape that justified the physical abuse and indifference that led to his death. Could a group of correction officers actually be “afraid” of a handcuffed and unresponsive inmate or “fear” that such a prisoner would try to escape? One can only ask if this is the same “fear” that is used to justify recent police shootings of unarmed and sometimes fleeing individuals.