American Correctional Association
The American Correctional Association (ACA; called the National Prison Association before 1954) is a private, non-profit, non-governmental trade association and accrediting body for the corrections industry, the oldest and largest such association in the world. The organization was founded in 1870 and has a significant place in the history of prison reform in the U.S.
ACA accredits over 900 prisons, jails, community residential centers (halfway houses), and various other corrections facilities in the U.S. and internationally, using their independently published standards manuals. Approximately 80 percent of all U.S. state departments of corrections and youth services are active participants. Also included are programs and facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the private sector.
Shane Bauer of Mother Jones wrote that the ACA functions as "the closest thing [the United States has] to a national regulatory body for prisons" in addition to being the American correctional industry's trade association.
The ACA was founded under the name National Prison Association. The driving creative force was Enoch Cobb Wines, a minister and reformer who organized an 1870 congress in Cleveland, hoping to introduce the principles of the progressive New York Prison Association to a national stage. Former U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes served as the organization's first president in 1883. Hayes "missed no opportunity to speak with well-informed sincerity about more effective and more humane ways of dealing with offenders". He remained president until his death ten years later.
Roeliff Brinkerhoff, an Ohio publisher, political figure, and frequent Hayes ally, succeeded Hayes as the association president. For the next twenty years, Brinkerhoff used the NPA as a platform to pursue basic correctional reforms such as the separation of state and federal prison systems, and the idea of parole, then a relatively new concept. With Brinkerhoff's influence, the state of Ohio passed a state parole law in 1885, the nation's first.
The organization's name was officially changed in 1954 to more accurately reflect the organization's philosophy and scope.
ACA began exploring the feasibility of accrediting its members in the 1960s, funded in part by a sizable 1969 grant from the Ford Foundation. In May 1974, the ACA created its "Commission on Accreditation for Corrections" in a meeting chaired by Walter Dunbar, a New York corrections figure known for his spokesman role at the Attica Prison riot. (The ACA maintains an annual achievement award in his honor.) In 1979, the Vienna Correctional Center, operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections, became the first accredited adult correctional institution.
In 2011, ACA began to branch out, and it audited the first detention facilities outside of the U.S. or Canada. In January 2012 four Mexican facilities became accredited by ACA, using their Core International Standards manual.
According to their website, the ACA has more than 5,000 members.
ACA hosts bi-annual conferences in different cities around the U.S. The first conference is the "ACA Winter Conference" with the year included in the title before ACA. It holds its second annual conference, the Congress of Correction, during the summer. Notable speakers at ACA conferences have included General Richard Myers, Congressman Danny Davis, presidential campaign director Donna Brazile, presidential candidate and commentator Pat Buchanan, covert CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, TV anchor Laurie Dhue, political analyst Charlie Cook, and Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.
- Joseph F. Scott (1900–?) – After serving as the warden of the Elmira state prison, Scott became the superintendent of prisons of the state of New York. In 1900, Scott was elected president of the A.C.A., predecessor National Prison Association.
- Terrell Don Hutto (1984–2000) – While Hutto was president, the ACA under Hutto's tenure, began to support the private prison system.
- Harold W. Clarke (2008–2010) – Clarke directed corrections in Nebraska, Washington State, Massachusetts, and is currently the director of corrections for the Commonwealth of Virginia.
- Daron Hall (2011–2013) – The Sheriff of Davidson County, Tennessee, Hall previously managed a Brisbane, Australia, prison for the Corrections Corporation of America
- Christopher B. Epps (2013–2014) – Known for improvements of the Mississippi State Penitentiary, reductions in the use of solitary confinement, and successful early release of more non-violent offenders under parole, Epps served as Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections for more than a decade and under three governors. In November 2014 he was indicted for eight federal charges of money laundering and taking $1.47 million in bribes and kickbacks from prison contractors and vendors; he resigned as A.C.A. president and Mississippi Commissioner of Corrections, pleaded guilty, and turned state's evidence. On May 25, 2017, Judge Henry Travillion Wingate gave him a federal prison sentence of 235 months (19.6 years). Wingate, who was appointed to the federal bench in 1985 said, "This is the largest graft operation that certainly I have seen, and I have seen a lot." By July 2017 Epps was serving his sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, Seagoville in Seagoville, Texas.
- Mary L. Livers (2014–2015) Former Deputy Secretary (agency head) of the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice. Previously Deputy Secretary for Operations of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Value of accreditation
In 1982, a 72-year-old senior judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge David L. Bazelon, resigned from the governing panel of the ACA with a 21-page statement of criticism. Bazelon had three years remaining on his five-year term. He described its lack of transparency and accountability, its apparent willingness to bend to political influence, and its dual role as a trade group and accreditor. Bazelon pointed out the apparent conflict of interest, writing, "How can the commission in good conscience represent itself as 'independent' and 'unbiased' while being financially dependent on the objects of its scrutiny?"
Bazelon also pointed out that ACA inspection teams at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, for example, did not even contact U.S. District Court Judge James L. Foreman, who had found the medical care so poor as to violate the constitution, and did not contact Dr. Lambert King, the special master Judge Foreman had appointed in 1980 to oversee the mandated improvements before they filed their approving reports.
Later critics have named several other institutions that retained their ACA accreditations while outside parties found grave violence and/or court-ordered reforms. These include:
- the private Otter Creek Correctional Center owned by CoreCivic in Floyd County, Kentucky, accredited in 2009 despite multiple charges of sexual abuse that caused the state of Hawaii to remove its inmates and the prison to be closed
- the Idaho State Correctional Center, in Kuna, operated by CoreCivic, which retained its good grades from ACA throughout a long proven pattern of violence in the prison, understaffing, operator contract fraud, and multiple federal investigations
- the private Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Mississippi, operated by Cornell Corrections which corporation was purchased in 2010 by GEO Group, accredited in 2012 when it was a juvenile facility, the same year U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves described it as "a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts"
Christopher B. Epps
On November 5, 2014, Christopher B. Epps resigned from his position as ACA president, shortly before the announcement of his indictments on dozens of corruption charges. Epps had been identified by a federal investigation conducted by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi called Operation Mississippi Hustle. He'd taken $1.47 million in kickbacks, from 16 corporations, for his role in awarding nearly $1 billion worth of private prison contracts. Epps also resigned from his full-time job as Corrections Commissioner for the state of Mississippi on the same day.
Epps pleaded guilty to money laundering and filing false tax returns. Many vendors were indicted, some pleaded guilty, one committed suicide, and eleven more suspects faced criminal bribery charges. The Assistant U.S. Attorney estimated the corruption's net benefit to prison contractors exceeded $65 million. Epps personally received at least the bribes for steering what Assistant U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca had first estimated at $800 million in contracts between 2006 and 2014. Presiding Federal judge, Henry Travillion Wingate heard the cases of the others who were charged with bribing Epps.
Irb Benjamin was charged with bribery of Epps in connection with the contractual drug and alcohol treatment his company provided to MDOC prisons. Benjamin's indictment was announced on August 22, 2015. He was paid at least $862,000 to acquire and maintain ACA accreditation for jails in numerous counties. Passing ACA standards was required if they were to be awarded contracts to hold state prisoners.
Benjamin had represented Alcorn County as a Democrat in the state House from 1976 to 1980 and state Senate from 1984 to 1992, later working for the Republican Lieutenant Governor. Alcorn County paid Benjamin, the president and lobbyist for Mississippi Correctional Management (MCM), $114,000 a year, although he lived more than 200 miles away. The Alcorn Board of Supervisors attorney said the supervisors had not been required to seek bids before giving Benjamin the contract as warden because it was a contract for services, which are exempt from bid laws.
Benjamin had received $5,000 a month to handle accreditation by the American Correctional Association for Alcorn's Regional Correctional Facility, and he had received another $4,500 a month as the jail's warden. Benjamin had formed MCM in 1996, when the state Department of Corrections and counties started hiring private contractors to operate prisons and smaller regional jails. It operated the Grenada County jail for years. Benjamin said the company also has jail accreditation contracts worth $4,000 or $5,000 a month with other counties including Chickasaw, Hancock, Holmes, Marion, Pearl River, Washington, and Yazoo. Prior to that he worked as a $3,000-a-month jail consultant for DeSoto County.
On June 8, 2008, DeSoto County Board of Supervisors supervisors approved the contract saying, "Mr. Benjamin was recommended by Commissioner Epps at the state level." On November 25, 2014, Benjamin said that he was not aware of the Epps recommendation.
Benjamin pleaded guilty to federal charges on October 18, 2016. He faced 10 years in prison, plus a fine of up to $250,000. Federal presiding Judge Wingate sentenced Benjmain to 70 months in prison, fined Benjamin $100,000, and ordered him to forfeit $260,782.
Benjamin, who said he was "pressured", estimated he had paid Epps between $180,000 and $225,000 in cash bribes to secure support for the regional jails. His plea covered bribes that had been paid for drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs that his company ran. LaMarca told Wingate, "it's just a matter of time" until others whom Benjamin informed upon are indicted.
On May 25, 2017, Epps received a federal prison sentence of almost 20 years. Judge Wingate, who had been appointed to the federal bench in 1985, said, "This is the largest graft operation that certainly I have seen, and I have seen a lot." Wingate cited the burglary of his former Flowood home by Epps as the reason why he gave a sentence that was much longer than the 13-year sentence recommended by prosecutors.
James A. Gondles Jr.
James A. Gondles Jr. became the executive director of ACA in 1990, after serving as the sheriff of Arlington County, Virginia. Court records indicate a long history of suits and allegations of mistreating his staff. Gondles was accused of sexual harassment, "acts of abuse of power", fraternizing and having sex with female deputies, bullying top aides, and targeting Arlington County employees who supported his opponent during his 1987 campaign for sheriff. In 1988, while he was serving as Sheriff of Arlington County, the Citizens for Law and Constitution alleged that Gondles had performed "acts of abuse and power" as sheriff, such as bullying aides and bragging about having sex with female deputies. Also in 1988 Gondles settled a sexual harassment suit, brought by a female deputy, with a $25,000 payment and a public apology.
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Another West Point alum and major CCA investor is T. Don Hutto, the corporation's executive vice-president. Hutto, an ex-prison guard who became commissioner of corrections in Virginia and Arkansas, has since 1984 been president of the American Correctional Association, which oversees prison accreditation standards. Unlike other corrections-related professional associations[...]the ACA under Hutto's tenure has supported prison privatization.
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