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The Commission on Accreditation for Corrections: facing the challenges of today.

Although the primary responsibility of the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections (CAC) is to render accreditation decisions, members also are involved in addressing critical correctional issues, particularly those affecting standards and accreditation. The corrections field faces constant challenges, and the commission strives to be responsive to those. Today, CAC is entrenched in addressing many complex issues.

One of those is the issue of repetitive plans of action. Throughout the years, the commission has been concerned about agencies that appear before them with plans of action to achieve compliance identical to those submitted following their previous audit. This may occur as a result of not having the ability to achieve compliance for one reason or another, or a deliberate indifference to comply. Compounding that are agencies that simply seek waivers because they cannot or do not want to comply with the standards. Such responses only weaken the process of accreditation and do not contribute to its integrity. To quote CAC's report on this subject: "The commission has long sought an approach to ensure that waivers are not automatically granted without adequate showings of mitigation; and to avoid plans of action that appear year after year (typically, but not exclusively in the area of crowding). Plans of action, if legitimate and genuine, reflect a commitment to excellence and a desire to achieve compliance with all standards. Plans of action, if contrived and repetitive, are a subversion of the process. We should be trying to encourage and support legitimate plans of action and discouraging and penalizing agencies for those that are less than genuine or those that evince a lack of commitment to compliance."

CAC, in tandem with the American Correctional Association's Field Advisory Committee, is working to find methods to address this issue. Discussion focuses on allowing agencies to "opt out" of certain standards for substantiated reasons and strengthening the rules for approving plans of action, possibly limiting them to one accreditation cycle only. Further information on this issue will be presented in the next few months.

In conjunction with the concern of appropriate plans of action and waivers and as part of the continuing effort by the commission to ensure that the quality and integrity of the accreditation process remains at its highest levels, the decision has been made to more closely monitor crowding in agencies that are candidates for accreditation or reaccreditation. A few years ago, the commission adopted the Crowding Protocol, which expresses its commitment to respond to the issue of crowding.

When a facility's audit report contains information that the population of a facility indicates noncompliance with the rated capacity standard, (e.g., 4-4129/3-4126, 4-4131/3-4128, 4-4132/3-4128-1, etc.), the following protocol applies:

Step 1: The panel clarifies that commission policy does not dictate how a facility brings itself into compliance with the capacity standards. The construction of new prisons is neither mandated nor prohibited. Some agencies have included the expanded use of community corrections for certain convicted felons as part of their plans of action.

Step 2: The plan of action submitted by the facility must describe the specific impact that steps being taken, either locally, (for example, through a systemic approach partnering with other elements of the justice system), or throughout the state (such as the construction of several new prisons or the expanded use of community corrections), will have on the particular facility. The plan of action will outline the projected timetable for reduction of the facility's population. If the population reduction will occur in increments, the timetable will reveal by when certain defined incremental reductions will occur.

Step 3: Since the measures, whether prison construction and/or the expanded use of community corrections, taken to bring a facility into compliance with a capacity standard will often take a long time to implement, the facility's plan of action must outline the steps that will be taken, in the interim, to mitigate the adverse effects stemming from noncompliance with the standard. For example, if idleness is a problem in the crowded facility, what steps will be taken to redress this problem and by when?

Step 4: In its annual report to the commission, the facility will describe the progress made both in reducing the facility's population and in mitigating the effects of any crowding that still persists.

Step 5: In assessing the plan of action, a number of factors should be weighed, including the severity of crowding and its impact on quality of life for staff and offenders, the proposed timetable for remediation, the statement of mitigation, and the extent to which the plan analyzes and employs alternatives to incarceration as a possible means of reducing population. The commission panel may:

a. Accept the proposed plan of action;

b. Request greater specificity with respect to the plan as a whole, or as to one or more of its components; or

c. Request a revised plan of action that specifically addresses the panel's concerns.

Additionally, the commission panel may:

a. Request that the facility submit reports on progress toward remediation;

b. Require additional audit visits at specified intervals;

c. Place the facility on probation, in addition to requiring additional audit visits at specified intervals; or

d. When safety, health or quality of life is seriously jeopardized and no less drastic measure will adequately ameliorate the problem, or when a facility has demonstrated a lack of commitment to take remedial action, the panel may deny or revoke accreditation.

The Quality Assurance Task Force/Quality Improvement Committee, another committee comprised of CAC members, has at the forefront of its agenda a review of the outcome measures within the performance-based standards manuals. There is a need for clear definitions as to the intent of the outcome measures and how they can be useful for the field. Agencies and auditors will be informed as to how to interpret outcome measures and evaluate them for accuracy. The aim is to ensure that outcome measures are consistently interpreted and applied.

Celebrating excellence is one of CAC's goals, and currently, the commission honors state agencies that have fully committed to the accreditation process by accrediting all correctional entities under their jurisdiction with the Eagle Award. To date, the Eagle Award has been presented to five agencies, and it is truly an exemplary accomplishment. Recognizing that there are entities other than state agencies that achieve this same level, the commission has established several new awards to acknowledge their continued commitment to accreditation. Agencies or facilities that meet the following criteria will soon be recognized by the commission: facilities that have maintained 100 percent compliance with both mandatory and nonmandatory standards for five consecutive accreditation cycles; facilities that have been accredited for eight consecutive accreditation cycles; and county, city or private correctional systems that have had all entities under their jurisdiction accredited (agencies that have five or fewer facilities or entities must maintain accredited status of all agencies/facilities under their jurisdiction for five consecutive cycles in order to be eligible).

Ingrained in CAC's operating strategy is the commitment to "solicit and welcome input from interested individuals, organizations and entities about ways to improve the accreditation process and fulfill its purposes." True to its word, the commission today continues in its mission to upgrade and improve corrections while continually striving for excellence.

Christine Powers is a regional manager in the American Correctional Association's Department of Standards and Accreditation.
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Title Annotation:Accreditation Byline
Author:Powers, Christine
Publication:Corrections Today
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2004
Previous Article:Transition from prison to the community.
Next Article:Training: an ongoing process.

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