The American Correctional Association (ACA) and the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections (CAC) are private, nonprofit organizations that administer the only national accreditation program for all components of adult and juvenile corrections. Their purpose is to promote improvement in the management of correctional agencies through the administration of a voluntary accreditation program and the ongoing development and revision of relevant, useful standards.
Accreditation, a process that began in 1978, involves approximately 80% of all state departments of corrections and youth services as active participants. Also included are programs and facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the U.S. Parole Commission, and the District of Columbia. For these agencies, the accreditation program offers the opportunity to evaluate their operations against national standards, remedy deficiencies, and upgrade the quality of correctional programs and services. The recognized benefits from such an process include improved management, a defense against lawsuits through documentation and the demonstration of a "good faith" effort to improve conditions of confinement, increased accountaability and enhanced public credibility for administrative and line staff, a safer and more humane environment for personnel and offenders, and the establishment of measurable criteria for upgrading programs, personnel and the physical plant on a continuing basis.
The timelines, requirements and outcomes of the accreditation process are the same for a state or federal prison, training school, local detention facility, private halfway house or group home, probation and parlole field service agency, or paroling authority. All programs and facilities sign a contract, pay an accreditation fee, conduct a self-evaluation and have a standards compliance audit by trained American Correctional Association auditors before an accreditation decision is made by the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections. Once accredited, all programs and facilities submit annual certification statements to the ACA. Also, at the ACA expense and discretion, a monitoring visit may be conducted during the initial three-year accreditation period to ensure continued compliance with the appropriate standards.
Accreditation activities are initiated voluntarily by correctional administrators. When an agency chooses to pursue accreditation, ACA staff will provide the agency with appropriate information and application materials. Theses include a contract, the applicable manual of standards, a policy and procedure manual and an organization summary.
It is the ACA's policy that nonadjudicated juveniles should be served outside the juvenile correctional system. Training schools housing status offenders must remove them before the facility can be awarded accreditation. Detention facilities may house statusoffenders who have violated valid court orders by continued perpetration of status offenses. In such instances, the following conditions would apply: status offenders are separated by sight and sound from delinquent offenders; facility staffs demonstrate attempts to mandate removal of all status offenders from detention centers; and special programs are developed for status offenders.
The ACA does not prohibit community programs that house adjudicated juveniles with status offenders in nonsecure settings from participation in accreditation. However, the ACA actively supports and requires exclusion of status offenders from the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Residential facilities and institutional programs that house adults and juveniles separated by sight and sound may become accredited. Individual cases may stipulate removal of juveniles before receiving an accreditation award.
As defined in the contract, the fees for the accreditation period cover all services normally provided to an agency by the ACA staff, auditors and the Commission. The fees are determined during the application period and are included in the contract signed by the agency and ACA.
At the agency's request and expense, an on-site accreditation orientation for staff and /or a field consultation may be scheduled. The object of the orientation is to prepare agency staff to complete the requirements of accreditation, including an understanding of self-evaluation activities, compilation of documentation, audit procedures and standards interpretation. A field auditor provides information on accreditation policy and procedure, standards interpretations and/or documentation requirements. Agency familiarity with standards and accreditation is the key factor in determining the need for these services.
The self-evaluation report includes the organizational summary, a compliance tally, preliminary requests for waivers or plans of action, and a completed standards compliance checklist for each standard in the applicable manual.
ACA policy addresses the impact of the standards' revisions on agencies involved in accreditation. Agencies signing contracts after the date that a Standards Supplement is published are held accountable for all standards changes in that supplement. Agencies are not held accountable for chages made after the contract is signed. The agencies may choose to apply new changes to the standards that have been issued following the program's entry into accreditation. Agencies must notify the ACA of their decision before conducting the standards compliance audit.
For accreditation purposes, any new architectural design, building, and/or renovation of the institution must be in accordance with the current standards manual at the time of the design, building, and/or renovation. In such cases, different standards would be applied to separate parts of the institution, respective to these changes in the physical plant.
At this time, the agency may request a waiver for on or more standards, provided that orverall agency programming compensates for the lack of compliance. The waiver request must be accompanied by a clear explanation of the compensating conditions. The agency applies for a waiver only when the totality of conditions safeguard the life, health, and safety of offenders and staff. Waivers are not granted for standards/expected practices designated as mandatory and do not change the conclusion of noncompliance or the agency's compliance tally. When a waiver is requested during the self-evaluation phase, ACA staff render a preliminary judgment. A Final decision can be made only by the Board of Commissioners during the accreditation hearing. Most waivers granted are for physical plant standards.
The Association requires that a self-evaluation report be completed by each applicant for accreditation. It is recommended that agencies entering into the accreditation process for the first time submit a written statement to the ACA conconcerning their status at the completion of the evaluation. Information contained in this staement should include the percentage of compliance with manditory and nonmandatory standards; a list of not applicalbel standards/expected practices; and a list of noncompliant standards and their deficiencies. Within 60 days of receipt of this statement, the ACA staff will provide the agency administrator with a written response containing, where appropriate, comments on materials or information submitted to the Association. The letter also provides notice to the agency of its acceptance to candidate status.
The compilation of written documentation requires the most time and effort during correspondent status. A separate documentation file, which documents compliance, is prepared for each standard.
To request an audit, an agency must comply with 100% of the standards/expected practices designated as mandatory and 90% of the nonmandatory standards/expected practices.
The agency requests a standards compliance audit when the facility administrator believes the agency or facility has met or exceeded the compliance levels required for accreditation(100% mandatory; 90% nonmandatory.)
Prior to arrival at the audit site, each member of the visiting committee reviews the agency';s descriptive narrative and any additional information that the ACA may have provided, including pending litigation and court orders submitted by the agency and any inmate correspondence. The visiting committee chair makes audit assignments to each auditor. For example, one auditor may audit the administrative, fiscal, and personnel standards/expected practices, while another audits standards/expected practices for physical plant, sanitation, and security, Upon arrival, the visiting committee meets with the administrator, accreditation manager, and other appropriate staff to discuss the scope of the audit and the schedule of activities. This exchange of information provides for the development of an audit schedule that ensures the least amount of disruption to the routine agency operation.
The exact amount of time required to complete the audit depends on agency size, number of applicable standards/expected practices, additional facilities to be audited, and accessibility and organization of documentation. To hasten the audit, all documentation should be clearly referenced and located where the visiting committee is to work.
The accreditation manager's responsibilities include compiling and making accessible to all visiting committee members the standards compliance documentation and release-of-information forms for personnel and offender records. Also, staff should be notified beforehand to ensure that they are available to discuss specific issues or conduct tours of the facility for the visiting committee.
During the audit, the members of the visiting committee tour the facility, review documentation prepared for each standard/expected practice, and interview staff and offenders to make compliance decisions the visiting committee reports its findings on the same standardscompliance checklist used by the agency in preparing its self-evaluation report. Allmembers of the visiting committee review all mandatory standards practices, all areas of noncompliance and nonapplicability, with decisions made collectively.
Interviewing staff and offenders is an integral part of the audit. In addition to speaking with those who request an interview with the team, the members of the visiting committee select other individuals to interview and with whom to discuss issues. Interviews are voluntary and occur randomly throughout the audit, and those interviewed are ensured that their discussions are confidential.
In addition to auditing standards practices documentation, auditors will evaluate the quality of life or conditions of confinement. An acceptable quality of life is necessary for an agency to be eligible for accreditation. Factors that the visiting committee consider include: the adequacy and quality of programs, activities, and services available to offenders and their involvement; occurrences of disturbances, serious incidents, assaults, or violence, including their frequency and methods of dealing with them to ensure the safety of staffand offenders or juveniles; and overall physical conditions, including conditions of confinement, program space, and institutional maintenance related to sanitation, health, and safety.
At the conclusion of the audit, the visiting committee again meets with the administrator, the accreditation manager, and any others selected by the administrator to discuss the results of the audit. During this exit interview, the visiting committee reports the compliance tally and all findings of noncompliance and nonapplicability, as well as preliminary decisions on waivers, stating the reasons for each decision.
The chair of the visiting committee then prepares and submits a copy of the visiting committee report to the ACA staff within 10 days of the completion of the audit. The ACA Staff review the report for completeness, enter the data, and within 15 days of the adit's completion, it is submitted to the agency administrtor and other members of the visiting committee for concurrence. Upon receipt of the visiting committee report, the agency has seven days to submit its written response to the report to the ACA staff and all members of the visiting committee.
The agency is invited, at its own expense, to have representation at the accreditation hearing. Agency representation is critical, the representative provides information about the agency, speaks in support of its appeals and/or waiver requests, and addresses concerns the panel may have regarding the accreditation application. Unless circumstances dictate otherwise, a member of the visiting committee is not present; however, an ACA staff member does participate.
Another essential element of the accreditation hearing is reviewing the potential impact overcrowding may have on the quality of life in the correctional setting. To accomplish this, the Commission adopted the Crowding Protocol. The Crowding Protocol establishes the parameters to which an agency must respond to noncompliant capacity standards. The response must be in the form of a viable plan of action that will eventually bring the facility into compliance.
After completing its review, the accreditation panel votes to award or deny accreditation or continue the agency in candidate or correspondent status or place the agency on probation. When an agency reveives a three-year accreditation award, a certificate with the effective date of the award is presented to the agency representative.
The Board of Commissioners may stipulate additional requirements for accreditation if, in its opinion, conditions exist in the facility or program that adversely affect the life, health, or safety of the staff or offenders. These requests are specific regarding activities required and timeliness for their completion. The panel advises the agency representative of all changes at the time the accreditation decision is made.
The ACA and the Commission may deny accreditation for insufficient standards/expected practices compliance, inadequate plans of action, or failure to meet other requirements as determined by the Commission, including, but not limited to, the conditions of confinement in a given facility. In not awarding accreditation, the Commission may extend an agency in candidate status for a specific period of time and for identified deficiencies, if in its judgment the agency is actively pursuing compliance. Those agencies denied accreditatio, but not extended in candidate status, may reapply for accreditation after 180 days. The agency receives written notification of all decisions relative to its accreditation following the accreditation hearing.