David L. Bazelon, senior judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals here, yesterday resigned from a commission that accredits some of the nation's prisons and jails, charging in effect that the commission is a wholly owned subsidiary of the institutions it inspects.
The Commission on Accreditation for Corrections, Bazelon said, "has repeatedly refused to take meaningful steps to guarantee its independence and to ensure the integrity of its decisions."
Robert S. Fosen, executive director of the commission, said he was sorry to learn of Bazelon's resignation. However, he said, "I see two problems with the judge: his complete lack of confidence in the peer review process that is accreditation. He has no truck with that. The other is he wants to get things done fast, but something like the opening up of the process, and I think he's right about that, has to take place slowly and carefully." The commission was organized in 1974 as a project of the American Correctional Association, a nationwide organization of prison officials. The commission has since become independent, although the ACA elects 15 of the 22 board members. Bazelon, long known as one of the most liberal jurists on a liberal court, was one of the 15 and was completing the second year of a five-year term.
The commission has been accrediting facilities for three years after writing extensive standards on matters ranging from security to kitchen cleanliness to prisoners' rights. With federal aid ending, most of its annual budget of about $1 million will be from the prisons or state corrections' departments that it certifies, Fosen said.
The commission has accredited about 100 of the nation's 700 federal and state adult prisons and another 100 are seeking accreditation, Fosen said. Accreditation is voluntary. Twenty-nine states have sought the commission's seal of approval for facilities or procedures.
Bazelon's main charge, amplified in a 21-page document that accompanied his resignation, was that the commission "repeatedly refused to open up the accreditation process to public scrutiny and participation." He called the commission's audit techniques and deliberative procedures "inherently unreliable."
"It's a question of how much progress how fast," Fosen said. He said that in the past year the commission's consultants have made 29 scheduled inspection visits and that "fewer than 5 percent were bummers." He agreed the inspection process needs improvement.
"We really part company with Judge Bazelon and others who cannot conceive of people working together in a field like ours and being fair and honest. They see it as inherently corrupt, and it's not," Fosen said.
He likened his group to the commission of medical professionals that accredits hospitals.
If the commission does not mend its ways, Bazelon wrote, "This country will have lost one of the last, best hopes for reforming the human wasteland that is our prison system."