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California DOC Watched Over by Toothless Bureau of Independent Review

While Californias $7.4 billion Department of Corrections and
Rehabilitation (CDCR) continues to report solely to the Governors Secretary of Corrections, the CDCR is also being overseen by the Bureau of Independent Review (BIR), reporting to the Governor. The good news is that some prison employees misdeeds are now being scrutinized by other than their own peers; the bad news is that the BIR has no policing power to order any CDCR employee to do anything.

BIR was formed after frustrated federal judges voiced repeated allegations of mismanagement raised in prisoner lawsuits [see: PLN, Mar. 2005, p.1, California Corrections System Officially Declared `Dysfunctional Redemption Doubtful]. The BIR monitors prison investigations, especially those involving prisoner injury to staff, guards rules violations and prisoner deaths. Headed by former Kern County prosecutor Robert Barton, the BIR is involved in every step of an investigation, from gathering information to suggesting resolutions.

The BIR gets good marks from Donald Specter, director of the non-profit Prison Law Office whose attorneys have spearheaded many successful court challenges to CDCR conditions. Specter calls BIR staff professional, extremely thorough and neutral, particularly in assisting with allegations of staff misconduct. But University of Southern California professor Ruth Gilmore, an expert on CDCR problems, complains that because the BIR is toothless, it is rendered ineffectual.

The BIR has three geographic divisions around the state. While presently working on standards for guards arrested for DUI, a hopeful Barton plans to spend time on bigger problems. It remains to be seen if the BIR can really inspire changes in CDCR.

Source: Bakersfield Californian.

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