The State of Civilian Oversight

But Who Oversees the Overseers? - The Status of Prison and Jail Oversight in the U.S.

This paper provides an updated assessment of the current state of correctional oversight in the US, and analyzes the nature of the oversight that exists. The paper builds on my 50-state inventory of correctional oversight models published in 2010 (“Independent Correctional Oversight Mechanisms Across the United States: A 50-State Inventory,” 30 Pace L. Rev. 1754 (2010)). That earlier research provided a baseline of correctional oversight data. But since the publication of that article, there have been numerous relevant developments around the country. Some states and counties have created new oversight bodies, while some existing entities have been strengthened or weakened. There have also been rising calls for increased oversight, especially in the wake of high-profile accounts of brutality, violence, medical neglect, and suicide in certain prisons and jails. And there have been many more sustained efforts to create oversight structures.

  • Michele Deitch, J.D., M.Sc., Senior Lecturer, University of Texas School of Public Affairs and School of Law

Prison Inspection and Monitoring Bodies in the European Union: Structures, Practices, and Powers

Prison inspection and monitoring bodies now exist in all European Union (EU) member States, but there is a whole range of differences among their practices, structures and activities. So far there has been only limited research on their work and most of this research has consisted on legal analyses examining the obligations and powers of these bodies under current provisions. While research of this kind is essential to understand the work of prison oversight bodies, we argue that there is also a need to examine the issue of implementation and how these bodies operate in practice. This paper seeks to address this gap in the literature on prison oversight, providing the first comprehensive analysis of how member States of the European Union have responded in practice to the growing international consensus in human rights law in support of prison oversight, and to the introduction of OPCAT in the area of prisons.

  • Eva Aizpurua, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Trinity College Dublin
  • Mary Rogan, Ph.D., Associate Professor in Law, Trinity College Dublin

Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement: The State of the Field and Effective Practices in Oversight

This report provides a brief overview of the history of civilian oversight, the features of traditional oversight models, and original insights on trends and developments on the current state of the field. This includes information on the geography of civilian oversight, patterns in oversight agency functions and authority, oversight staffing and resourcing, oversight agency access to department records and information, and developments in community outreach functions performed by oversight agencies across the country. This information is intended to fill existing gaps in the literature on civilian oversight and provide stakeholders with a broader understanding of the contemporary civilian oversight landscape.

The second half of this report focuses on the principles that underlie effective civilian oversight and recommended practices that bolster an oversight agency’s ability to adhere to these principles. In total, this report offers 73 recommendations across 16 core areas of civilian oversight such as independence, access to information, processing and managing complaints, analyzing law enforcement policies and data, issuing public reports, evaluating a civilian oversight agency, and performing community outreach. These recommendations have been developed with input from seasoned oversight professionals throughout the country and include commentary as well as additional references that can assist in their implementation. While these recommendations do not cover all aspects of civilian oversight, stakeholders should take them into consideration and determine their propriety in their local contexts.

  • Mike Vitoroulis, B.A., Former Research Fellow, National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement


This session was moderated by Nicholas Mitchell, J.D., Independent Monitor, Denver’s Office of the Independent Monitor