May 31, 2019

Warren Opens Investigation into Private Detention Accreditation System After Widespread Reports of Substandard Conditions & Safety Concerns in Multiple Facilities

Senator Demands Answers from DHS, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the American Correctional Association, and Major Private Detention Operators on Problems Plaguing System

"Perverse incentives, conflicts of interest and a failure to adequately oversee conditions at private detention facilities have put detainees in danger."

Letter to DHS | Letter to BOP | Letter to ACA | Letter to Private Detention Operators

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has opened an investigation into the accreditation process for private detention operators following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities nationwide. In a series of letters sent to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the American Correctional Association (ACA), and the three largest private prison operators, Senator Warren expressed her serious concerns with, and requested 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.

Private prison operators contract with DHS to operate immigration detention facilities, with BOP to incarcerate federal inmates, and with many states and local governments to detain inmates. As of 2016, the three largest detention facilities -- operated by the GEO Group, Management and Training Corporation, and CoreCivic -- held over 65% of immigrants in detention and 22,000 federal inmates, or approximately 12% of the BOP population. The ACA serves as the primary accrediting body for the corrections industry, and accreditation by the ACA is a requirement for private prison operators seeking contracts with federal agencies. 

In November 2018, Senator Warren led her colleagues in writing to GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two largest private immigration detention contractors, requesting information about the companies' compliance with federal immigration detention standards following a DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report about unsafe conditions and mistreatment of immigrants at a number of privately-run immigration detention centers. GEO Group responded by pointing to their ACA accreditation in 2014 and re-accreditation in 2017, with "a score of 99.6%," as evidence of their compliance with these standards. 

In her letters today, Senator Warren outlined the systemic problems with private detention accreditation, highlighting the inherent conflicts of interest at the ACA, which serves as the major trade and lobbying organization for the private prisons while also accrediting their facilities. The senator noted that private prison operators provide substantial funding to the ACA, described how private prison employees sit on the ACA's accreditations and standards committees, and criticized the ACA's flawed accreditation processes. 

"It appears the ACA is a conflicted party with twisted incentives, a lack of transparency, and lax inspection policies that appear to have turned accreditation into a rubber-stamp process that does little to hold facilities accountable," the senator wrote in her letters. "Perverse incentives, conflicts of interest and a failure to adequately oversee conditions at private detention facilities have put detainees in danger."

The senator also noted private detention operators' questionable record of protecting the health, safety, and security of their detainees, and she expressed concern with the federal government's reliance on ACA accreditation.  

"Relying on a private organization to accredit and inspect private detention facilities that have a sub-par health and safety record is a recipe for disaster," Senator Warren continued. "In industry after industry, outsourcing accountability has allowed corporations to evade standards with little to no consequences."

To address her concerns, Senator Warren requested more information regarding the ACA's opaque funding and processes, the extent of the federal government's dependence on ACA accreditation, and its oversight of the ACA and its members. She asked that the information be provided no later than June 14, 2019.

Senator Warren also led an investigation into private detention operators' compliance with federal immigration detention standards and the private auditor responsible for inspecting detention facilities, Nakamoto Group, earlier this year.  That investigation revealed that neither the private prison companies nor their private auditor, Nakamoto, have taken responsibility for grievous failures identified by the OIG -- and also revealed an ongoing dispute between the Nakamoto Group, the contractor responsible for auditing detention facilities, and the OIG about the quality of Nakamoto's inspections.