Letter To The Editor: ACA accreditation for Texas prisons doesn't mean much

In the March 2nd edition of the San Antonio Express News, an article was printed about the riot that happened at the privately run Willacy County Correctional Center in Raymondville, Texas. Management Training Company (MTC) was contracted by the federal government to run this facility. The narrative that MTC painted in the article was that the prisoners planned the riots in order to facilitate their movement to other facilities and in doing so influence the location of their deportation.

Previously it had been reported that the prisoners rioted over poor living conditions and sub standard medical care. The article quoted that: "MTC defended its medical services Monday, stating it provided care that was accredited by the American Correctional Association and The Joint Commission, and that surveys found inmates were satisfied with the medical care they received. "

I submitted this letter to the editor in response:

In “Prison company: Inmates in Willacy County may have planned riot,” (March 2) I think it is interesting that “MTC defended its medical services stating it provided care that was accredited by the ACA.” I think it should be noted that the ACA had also given accreditation to the Dawson and Mineral Wells units, which were shut down last year by the Texas Legislature because of the lack of medical care inside. Four people died within a two year period before there was enough attention on the Dawson facility to close it. All that time, the facility remained ACA accredited despite the lack of adequate medical care there.

As someone who has been on the inside of a Texas prison as they prepare for this “accreditation,” I can tell you that it seems to be more about appearances than it does about really making any significantly positive changes to procedure or services. For a month or so before the inspectors come, inmates do extra cleaning, slap fresh coats of paint (sometimes over the mold) and label everything on the unit.  The spin that MTC has put on this uprising is suspect, and it occurs to me that it is more likely that this happened for more than just one reason. I am glad that the prisoners will be alive to tell their stories, so many others in “ACA accredited” facilities are not.