July 09, 2020

As Part of An Ongoing Investigation into the Accreditation System for Prisons and Detention Facilities, Warren Demands Information on the American Correctional Association's Measures to Prevent and Manage the Spread of COVID-19

12 of the 15 largest COVID-19 clusters in the U.S. are at correctional facilities; ACA is the primary accreditor for federal, state, and local private facilities

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to American Correctional Association (ACA) Director James A. Gondles Jr. regarding the ACA's procedures for inspecting and accrediting correctional facilities during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. Senator Warren requested a detailed description of the steps the ACA is taking to ensure that the facilities it accredits are taking every possible step to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19, including providing adequate care to incarcerated individuals in their custody. The letter is part of Warren's ongoing investigation into the ACA and its accreditation process for correctional facilities following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for prisoners and detainees in facilities nationwide.

The ACA is the primary accreditor for federal, state, and local private prisons and detention facilities. COVID-19 is spreading in U.S. prisons and jails at an alarming rate, and correctional facilities have become hotspots for the rapid spread of the virus, with 12 of the 15 largest COVID-19 "clusters" in the U.S.-and all five of the largest clusters-occurring in prisons and jails. The Marshall Project recently published a report on the Federal Bureau of Prisons' (BOP) handling of the COVID-19 outbreak and found that "BOP was unprepared for the pandemic and slow to respond, and that top officials even took measures that contributed to the spread of the virus."

"As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc in communities across the nation-with prisons and jails being the largest hotspots in the country-it is more important than ever that correctional facilities are taking every possible step to prevent and manage the spread of COVID-19 in order to protect the incarcerated individuals in their custody, as well as correctional staff, their families, and the general public," wrote Senator Warren. "As the primary accreditor for prisons, jails, and detention facilities in the U.S., this makes it all the more important that the ACA conduct rigorous oversight of facilities' responses to the pandemic."

Incarcerated individuals are uniquely vulnerable to contracting and spreading COVID-19, and detention facilities face unique challenges providing adequate care for incarcerated individuals who become infected. According to public health experts, incarcerated individuals "are at special risk of infection, given their living situations," and may not be able to take the precautionary steps to protect themselves that non-incarcerated people can, such as social distancing measures and increased sanitation practices. 

In May of 2019, Senator Warren sent a series of letters sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the BOP, the ACA, and the three largest private prison operators requesting information about the failures of the private prison accreditation system to protect the wellbeing of individuals detained at privately-operated facilities, and raised questions about conflicts of interest at the accrediting body, the ACA. Senator Warren, along with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai'i), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.), also sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in response to the findings of the senators' investigation into private prison companies' compliance with federal immigration detention standards and the private auditor responsible for inspecting detention facilities.