A new poll offers proof of overwhelming support for the work the Prison Society does that cuts across party lines.
In a national survey of registered voters, our friends at FAMM found that 82% of registered voters believe “that states and the federal government should have a system of independent oversight for their prisons.” Eighty percent of the voters who shared that view were Republicans, and 85% were Democrats.
There was strong agreement—73%—that the oversight should be done by “by professionals who are independent of the prison system they are inspecting.”
As prisons and jails grapple with the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a great need for the transparency and accountability that only independent oversight can provide. Jails across Pennsylvania have seen an ongoing surge of people dying in their custody. In state prisons, incarcerated people are still living under policies introduced during the pandemic that restrict access to family visits, education, religious services and force them to eat meals in their cells.
The Prison Society is the only independent monitor of prison conditions in Pennsylvania, and one of the only wholly independent oversight organizations in the country. While our small staff and large statewide volunteer network observed conditions in almost every correctional facility in the state and responded to more than 5,000 concerns from incarcerated people and their loved ones last year, our resources are outmatched by the scope of the correctional system. There are 62,000 people in custody in 62 county jails and 23 state prisons in Pennsylvania.
That’s why the Prison Society asked for $2 million in state funding this year to expand our prison monitoring work—a paltry amount compared to the $2.7 billion overall budget for corrections. We estimated the investment would save the state $4 million dollars, by resolving abusive conditions before they lead to lawsuits or cause trauma that contributes to recidivism.
The top three reasons people polled found most convincing for supporting prison oversight were to “root out waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption;” to keep people who live and work in custody safe; and to save “taxpayers money by finding potential issues before they become bigger and more costly problems.” Unfortunately, the legislature failed to recognize what voters polled by FAMM knew—that supporting independent oversight is not only the right thing to do, it’s also fiscally smart. The Prison Society is hopeful that next year, Pennsylvania lawmakers will act on the broad support for independent prison monitoring among their constituents.