In the Spotlight: Correctional Employees’ Viewpoints on External Oversight

Melanie K. Worsley*

Volume 47.2

* Melanie K. Worsley, J.D., Associate Professor and Chair of the Criminal Justice and Legal Studies Department at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Melanie Worsley, Washburn University, 1700 SW College Ave, Benton 201A, Topeka, Kansas 66621. Email: melanie.worsley@washburn.edu.

Introduction

The oversight field has increasingly recognized that there are parallels between oversight of police and correctional oversight. In her comprehensive Annotated Bibliography on Independent Prison Oversight, Michele Deitch, a leading scholar in correctional oversight, noted these parallels and included articles relating to police oversight in the annotated bibliography.[1] Similarly, the National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) recently expanded its approach to oversight when it began offering a corrections track at its annual conference and included corrections panels at the 2020 Academic Symposium co-hosted by the University of Texas School of Law and the University of Texas at Austin’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Academics should continue to expand on this recognition that there are clear overlaps between correctional oversight and oversight of police, including examining whether research in each field can be cross-applied. One such area is research that has been conducted regarding stakeholder perspectives of external oversight.

Researchers studying police oversight have recognized the importance of stakeholder buy-in to oversight. More specifically, academics studying police oversight have used social scientific approaches to examine stakeholders’ perspectives regarding procedural justice and legitimate authority as it applies to the police oversight process. In the correctional oversight literature, there has been discussion of the value of stakeholder buy-in to the oversight process, but there is little social scientific research regarding stakeholder perspectives of correctional oversight.[2] This paper takes a social scientific approach to examine whether police oversight research regarding stakeholder perspectives on procedural justice and legitimate authority are useful for better understanding correctional oversight.

In order to determine whether this cross-application is appropriate, 38 employees at a midwestern jail were interviewed to learn more about their thoughts regarding correctional oversight, their role in the criminal justice system, and issues they face as correctional employees. The correctional employees interviewed included line staff, supervisors, and administrators. During the semi-structured interviews, employees’ discussion of oversight included raising concerns regarding procedural justice and legitimate authority, affirming that police oversight research regarding these issues is relevant to the correctional oversight field. 

Beyond demonstrating that correctional employees’ perspectives on procedural justice should be further studied, these interviews provide insight into correctional employees’ views of correctional oversight in general, including the perceived benefits and drawbacks of external monitoring. Understanding their ideas regarding the benefits and drawbacks of oversight as well as the current stresses experienced by corrections employees can help jurisdictions identify shared points of agreement, such as ways in which oversight can help correctional employees, as well as critical areas that must be addressed, such as chronic understaffing in facilities. Better understanding as to why correctional employees may be resistant to or push back against oversight is also useful for jurisdictions looking for ways to garner increased buy-in from this key stakeholder group. Altogether, seeking input from the very people being monitored by the oversight system can only serve to help jurisdictions implement more effective and sustainable external oversight models and practices.


[1]See Michele Deitch, Annotated Bibliography on Independent Prison Oversight, 30 Pace L. Rev. 1687, 1687–­­1753 (2010).

[2]See Melanie K. Worsley & Amy Memmer, Transparency Behind Bars: A History of Kansas Jail Inspections, Current Practices, and Possible Reform, 1 J. of Crim. Just. & L. 71 (2018).

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