When reports of abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison surfaced in the spring of 2004, Ron McAndrew felt the same outrage that many other Americans did. But there was one emotion that the retired Florida Department of Corrections prison warden didn't feel: surprise. The specific abuses at Abu Ghraib were different, but the pattern of beatings, humiliation and intimidation of prisoners, McAndrew tells NEWSWEEK, "was absolutely familiar."

McAndrew is now one of 10 panelists scheduled to appear on April 19 in Tampa, Fla., at the first public hearing of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in American Prisons. Organized by the Vera Institute of Justice, the 21-member, non-partisan commission will take on issues facing the prison system: abuse, poor training and a lack of standards. After the final hearing in January 2006, the commission, which is co-chaired by former attorney general Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, will issue a report to Congress and advocacy groups. Alex Busansky, a former Manhattan prosecutor who is the committee's executive director, says a thorough look at prisons is warranted, since about 13.5 million people are incarcerated annually. "What goes on in prisons is like domestic violence or child abuse was 20 or 30 years ago," he says. "No one talks about it. It's time to shed some light on what goes on."