February 29, 2024

Warren, Markey, Merkley Call on the Bureau of Prisons to Protect Inmates, End Prison Accreditation Contract with the American Correctional Association

“We urge the BOP not to renew its ACA accreditation contract when it expires next month.” 

“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.”

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) sent a letter to Colette Peters, Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, expressing concerns with the Bureau of Prisons’ (BOP) reliance on the American Correctional Association (ACA) for accreditation and re-accreditation services for BOP prisons, and urging the BOP to end its contract with the ACA when it expires next month. 

The lawmakers warned that the ACA’s accreditation system is “largely toothless and is marred by conflicts of interest,” and the ACA has accredited prisons that have forced inmates to live in unsafe and violent conditions — such as a facility that “served spoiled, insect- and rodent-infested food and failed to repair broken toilets.” The association accredits virtually every facility that pays the accreditation fee, and its audit processes are virtually impossible to fail. 

“[W]hen an in-person audit is conducted, the ACA helps facilities prepare by giving them three months’ notice before an audit, providing checklists and audit evaluation forms, and offering opportunities for ‘mock audits,’” the lawmakers wrote. “In essence, the ACA ‘provid[es] the answers to the test in advance.’ Furthermore, facilities can be accredited even if they fail the audit, and being accredited by the ACA seems to have little correlation with actual facility conditions or practices.” 

The letter also highlights the inherent conflicts of interest in the ACA’s accreditation system. The ACA serves as the primary advocate and lobbying group for the prison industry, while also being given responsibility for overseeing conditions at prison facilities — a difficult conflict of interest to reconcile. “These competing roles make it impossible for the ACA to retain credibility as a third party charged with ensuring appropriate conditions in prisons and jails,” the lawmakers argue. 

The lawmakers also call attention to findings by the DOJ Inspector General (IG), which revealed that the ACA audits do not even involve independent reviews.  According to the IG, “[i]nstead of conducting its own review of the BOP’s facilities or documentation, the ACA would renew accreditations simply based on the BOP’s self-assessment.” 

In addition to urging the non-renewal of the BOP-ACA contract, the lawmakers also request answers about current ACA contracts with the DOJ, the ACA accreditation process, and potential alternatives to the ACA. 

In December 2020, Senator Warren released the findings of a May 2019 investigation she opened into the ACA, confirming a long history of the ACA maintaining conflicts of interest and failing to provide meaningful oversight of the facilities it accredits, resulting in rubber-stamping of dangerous facilities and the wasting of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Senator Warren has taken several steps to reform federal and private prisons and immigration detention centers, and to hold them accountable for mismanagement and corruption. 

  • On February 13, 2024, Senators Warren and Markey sent a letter to Massachusetts Department of Correction Commissioner Carol Mici, urging her to carefully review the track records of Wellpath and YesCare (“Corizon”), which are possible bidders to become the next healthcare provider for Massachusetts prisons.

  • On December 18, 2023, Senator Warren led her Senate colleagues in a letter to Wellpath — the nation’s largest private provider of prison healthcare — raising concern over reports of inadequate care at federal, state, and local prisons and jails.

  • On March 18, 2021, Senator Warren led her colleagues in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) urging it to conduct a comprehensive review of all COVID-19-related deaths of incarcerated individuals in the custody of the BOP and BOP staff since the beginning of the pandemic.

  • On December 14, 2020, Senator Warren released the findings of her May 2019 investigation into the accreditation process for private detention operators, finding pervasive conflicts of interest and rubber-stamp approvals by the ACA. 

  • On January 16, 2020, Senator Warren led a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the BOP questioning their anti-corruption policies and practices after a series of high-level ICE and BOP officials left to join the biggest private detention companies in the industry. 

  • On May 31, 2019, Senator Warren opened an investigation into the accreditation process for private detention operators following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities nationwide.

  • On April 15, 2019, Senator Warren joined her colleagues in a letter to ICE reporting findings of their investigation into private prison companies’ compliance with federal immigration detention standards and into the private auditor responsible for inspecting detention facilities.

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