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Standards and accreditation: accreditation provides o road map lo excellency, and the standards are a toot to sound correctional practices.

Editor's Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily the American Correctional Assocation.


While a graduate student at the University of South Carolina 30 years ago. JoAnn Morton, Ph.D., impressed upon me that ACA standards and accreditation was one of the most important aspects of the field of corrections. When I was reassigned to an Army correctional facility, she stressed that if it was not accredited, I should strive to make it accredited and live up to the ACA standards daily. I took it to heart, and since then, ACA standards and accreditation has always been a fore-thought to any challenges, issues or decisions I have had to make in my corrections career.

Why is accreditation so important? Accreditation provides a road map to excellence, and the standards are a tool to sound correctional practices. The recent change to performance-based standards provides a better system to evaluate performance versus simply providing policy, procedure and practice. The serious incident summary and outcome measures provide a system to track performances and indicators over time in order to focus on areas in need of assistance.

In 2011, the Mexico Federal Penitentiary System developed a strategic plan to standardize the federal penitentiaries and make them more efficient and effective in reintegrating inmates into the community. They used ACA accreditation under the core international standards to evaluate and measure the progress of their strategic plan, and to further develop a road map for the federal penitentiary system.

Globally, we are facing some tough economic times, and the corrections profession continues to experience resource cuts or "right sizing". ACA standards and accreditation help corrections professionals manage and save resources. Often, one may hear that ACA accreditation saves money by winning lawsuits, but accreditation, and more specifically, adapting and implementing the standards into daily operation also saves resources. During a visit of a Mexico federal penitentiary, Deputy Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections and Superintendent of Mississippi State Penitentiary, Emmitt Sparkman, and I were in a discussion with the penitentiary staff on the importance of conducting inventories. Sparkman relayed how when he first arrived at one of his facilities and implemented ACA standards, specifically accountability and conducting of inventories, the facility immediately started saving thousands of dollars through better accountability of equipment and supplies. The corrections community is going to have to continue to make tough decisions due to difficult economic times, and ACA standards will be of assistance in doing so.

Published in 2006, Confronting Confinement: A Report of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons identified grave problems and good works in corrections. In its findings on oversight and accountability, the report stated, "Most correctional facilities are surrounded by more than physical walls; they are walled off from external monitoring and public scrutiny to a degree inconsistent with the responsibility of public institutions" (1) The report went on to note that every prison and jail should be accredited. In my opinion, the report was narrowly focused on confinement. If it had Focused OH "corrections," which is a much broader topic than prisons and jails, but includes community corrections, parole boards, etc, the findings would have been the same. We are all going to be held accountable to someone for our operations and our budget. Internal reviews can help, but they are not a good measuring stick, nor are they viewed the same way as external audits or reviews. ACA is the expert and ACA accreditation is the measuring stick for accreditation. We expect our universities, medical facilities and other services to be accredited, so why not our correctional agencies and facilities? One can hire an outside agency, but it would not have the experts or standards to measure one by f believe all correctional agencies and facilities should be ACA accredited because it provides the facility or agency with standards to implement into daily operations, an Internal quality management system and an external review for accountability. Accreditation is a growing trend in the public service community.

ACA recognizes the need for different standards manuals based on the different missions and facets of each type of correctional agency. Standards evolve to incorporate trends, issues, court cases and concerns. There is often confusion on how standards are developed. Generally, standards are developed by those in the field, not ACA staff. They are formally submitted twice a year to ACA. at which time ACA posts them on its website for comments by practitioners in the field. The recommended changes, additions and deletions are then presented to the ACA Standards Committee, which is made up of practitioners from the corrections community, for decision. The committee debates about each standard submitted to ensure it is applicable, practical, measureable and improves the operation of the facility/agency, and/or improves the quality of life for staff and offenders.

Standards and accreditation has a come a long way since Walter Dunbar formulated a plan to promote formal accreditation in 1967; the first published ACA standards manual, titled Adult Parole Authorities, in 1976; or the first awarding of ACA accreditation in 1978 to four adult community residential facilities. Who would have thought that 36 years after the Adult Parole Authorities standards manual was published, there would be 25 standards manuals that span across the corrections profession, encompassing community corrections, prisons, jails, juvenile facilities, central offices, parole boards and training academies?

Thirty-four years following the first four accredited facilities, four Mexico federal penitentiaries started another historic event for ACA standards and accreditation when they were accredited under the international core standards. However, we are only scratching the surface. The future looks good for ACA standards and accreditation with the recent release of the core jail standards, development of international standards and the interest to he accredited by international organizations, while experimenting with electronic ACA folders and the process in place to continually refine the standards and accreditation process. My challenge to each and every one of you is if your facility or agency is not accredited, strive for accreditation: If you are accredited, reach out to someone who is not accredited, explain the importance of accreditation and assist him or her In becoming accredited.

ACA standards and accreditation help corrections professionals manage and save resources.


(1.) Vera Institute of Justice. 2006, Confronting confinement: A report of the commission on safety and abuse in America's prisons. New York: Vera Institute pi Justice.

By David K. Haasenritter

Assistant Deputy, Corrections Oversight Army Review Board Agency.
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Title Annotation:Guest Editorial
Author:Haasenritter, David K.
Publication:Corrections Today
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2012
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