Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1973

Publication Title

Cleveland State Law Review


reform, prison, confinement institutions, mental institutions


O N ANY GIVEN DAY, THERE ARE MORE THAN one million persons involuntarily confined within government institutions.1 Those in custody whether committed to mental institutions, jails, juvenile facilities, or prisons, are the invisible Americans. Until recently, most of us on the outside were not particularly concerned about their lot. To the extent that we knew of their existence, we were relieved that they were out of our immediate neighborhoods and that we were "protected" from them. Increasingly, however, newspaper headlines or television screens have begun to show glimpses of these inmates as they riot; widespread abuses are exposed, and authorities across the ideological spectrum bemoan the non-treatment, inhumanity, or "schools for crime" found within the walls of their closed societies.

The author proposes the establishment of regional commissions within each state accountable to a state board to provide these structures. Members of the board would be chosen, in equal number, by the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. Each commission would be composed of individuals with backgrounds in law, mental health, corrections, the social sciences, and accounting. Moreover, current institutional personnel as well as ex-inmates would serve. Under the state board's guidelines, a commission would develop diversion programs, tap volunteers for in-custody and post-release support, propose grievance procedures, choose in-residence and "circuit-riding" ombudsmen, contract with legal services and arbitrators, and assign field teams to periodically investigate confinement institutions within the area. Universities and institutes, located within the various regions, could serve as a research and skills pool of students and other professionals. Reports would be published annually and available in regional libraries. Such reports, along with the other commission activities, would provide the kind of informed visibility needed by the diverse publics to be aware of and supportive of meaningful change.

The reports could furnish a baseline of continuing information, and the varied monitoring activities could focus a necessary spotlight upon administration in places of confinement.