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Michele Deitch
named Soros Senior Justice Fellow for
work on prison reform

Michele Deitch of the LBJ School of Public Affairs has been named a 2005 Open Society Institute Soros Senior Justice Fellow. Deitch was selected for her proposals to curb human rights abuses in U.S. prisons and jails by making them more transparent and accountable. She will receive a stipend over the next year while she researches options for creating an independent entity that has the power to inspect correctional facilities and enforce standards for the treatment of prisoners.

"When the Abu Ghraib scandal drove home the need for the outside world to keep tabs on what happens to prisoners behind closed doors,” said Deitch, “many observers were surprised to learn that the United States is the only western country that does not have a formal mechanism for the routine, external review of its prison facilities."

"Our European counterparts, in contrast, have long recognized that independent prison oversight is critical to the enforcement of human rights," she said.

Drawing from successful modeIs in Europe, Deitch will develop specific proposals on how to establish such inspection mechanisms the United States. A central goal of her work will be to provide other criminal justice reformers with detailed knowledge about these oversight mechanisms in order to help them argue more effectively for specific changes in law and practice. She is planning a symposium in April 2006 that will bring together internationally respected experts on prison oversight, and she will edit a volume of essays arising from this event.

Deitch is an adjunct professor at the LBJ School, where she teaches a course on corrections and sentencing policy. She is an attorney with over 20 years of experience working on criminal justice policy issues with state and local government officials. Her areas of specialty include institutional conditions and management, prison and jail overcrowding, corrections law, prison privatization, sentencing reform, probation and parole, and alternatives to incarceration. She holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, an M.Sc. in psychology (with a specialization in criminology) from Oxford University, and a B.A. from Amherst College.

Since 1993, Deitch has served as a consultant to state and local policymakers and agency officials around the country on a wide range of corrections and sentencing issues. The American Bar Association recently appointed her to serve as reporter for a task force that will revise 25-year-old legal standards affecting prisoners’ rights. Deitch also currently serves as contributing editor to the Correctional Law Reporter, one of the country's leading journals for correctional administrators and lawyers. She previously held several key positions with the Texas Legislature, including serving as General Counsel to the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee and Policy Director of the Texas Punishment Standards Commission. Working in those posts, she was involved with virtually every major criminal justice policy initiative considered by state officials in Texas in the early 1990s. During the late 1980s, as part of the landmark Ruiz prison reform lawsuit, Deitch was appointed by Judge William Wayne Justice as a full-time monitor of conditions in the Texas prison system.

Deitch is one of six Soros Senior Justice Fellows selected by the Open Society Institute this year. The Open Society Institute also awards eight Soros Advocacy Justice Fellowships and four Soros Media Justice Fellowships. Other recipients include filmmakers, clergy, formerly incarcerated people, advocates, lawyers, journalists, scholars, economic planners, and researchers. The 2005 fellowships, totaling $1,252,000 in grants, reflect OSI's commitment to systemic justice reform. OSI has awarded over $10 million to nearly 200 Soros Justice Fellows since the program's inception in 1997.

Related Links

Law students and adjunct professor honored with OSI fellowships

OSI Fellowships website


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7 February 2005

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