April 1, 2024

Bureau Of Prisons Ends Contract With American Correctional Association

Walter Pavlo

The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) did not renew its contract the the American Correctional Association (ACA). ACA specializes in providing accreditation services for correctional facilities at various levels, including state, local, federal, and private institutions.

This move comes after an Office of Inspector General report was critical of the BOP’s contract with ACA. The BOP operates 122 facilities housing nearly 160,000 federal prisoners. The BOP has numerous policies in caring for those in custody but a a review by the U.S. Department of Justice OIG concluded that the BOP and ACA agreed that ACA would rely on the BOP’s internal program review reports. As a result, it appears the BOP was, in effect, paying ACA to affirm the BOP’s own findings and thereby providing no real certification or action for improvement.

The BOP has aging facilities that are in dire need of repair. It has been estimated that the BOP needs nearly $2 billion to bring all of its institutions, many that are over 50 years old, up to modern standards. The U.S. Senate proposed $209 million for the BOP’s building and facilities account in fiscal 2024, while lawmakers on the House side have sought to allocate $273 million in their draft Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill. Both are far short of what is necessary to repair these aging prisons. To identify facility needs, audits and oversight are needed to address issues at prisons so that they can be fixed/upgraded. OIG concluded that there is little value in the accreditations and, as a result, real failures at BOP facilities are not being addressed.

In February 2024, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Ed Markey, and Jeff Merkley wrote a letter to the BOP and Department of Justice asking the agencies not to renew a contract with the ACA. In their letter, the three senators said the ACA has a financial incentive to provide accreditation to the facilities it’s supposed to evaluate independently. According to the letter, almost half of the organization’s revenue comes from fees and payments related to its accreditation process, while another 25 percent is derived from private prison companies’ financial support of ACA conferences. “The ACA’s accreditation system is ineffective at best, and at worst misleads the public to believe that a failing facility’s operations are adequate,” the senators’ letter said.

The BOP released a statement on its webpage saying, “After careful consideration, the FBOP has decided to explore other options to ensure continued improvement and innovation in correctional standards for the well-being of adults in custody and the FBOP's workforce. “

The BOP has been rocked by scandals over the past years. The introduction of contraband into institutions by staff, sexual abuse of inmates and indifference have all led to problems at the agency who is on its sixth director in as many years. Current Director Colette Peters has promised more humane treatment of prisoners but many problems persist.

While ACA may have rubber-stamped its work for BOP, it is now up to the BOP to police itself. OIG has conducted surprise inspections of facilities and is often critical of BOP practices. Perhaps if the BOP would just address the big issues from OIG and the media, it would improve on its mission to return better citizens to society.

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Article originally published on Forbes.com by Walter Pavlo (April 1, 2024)

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