Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at this point, but every time a private prison company pops up as a top sponsor of the largest “impartial” accrediting association in the world, we are. This time not one but eight private prison and private correctional healthcare companies, each with a history of human rights violations, are the top sponsors of the American Correctional Association’s 144th Congress of Corrections conference.
The American Correctional Association (ACA) accreditations are used by private prison and healthcare companies to prove the quality of their services to the states and municipalities they receive their billions in taxpayer dollars from each year. The largest private prison company, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), has ties with ACA that go back to 1984, when CCA founder T. Don Hutto was the president of the ACA. There is no regulation of the ACA beyond its own employees, who include past president Daron Hall (a former CCA program director) and at least one current CCA employee, Todd Thomas, who serves as an ACA auditor.
In 2009, CCA received ACA’s stamp of approval on thirteen of its facilities, just after that year’s Congress of Corrections conference, where … no surprise… CCA was a top sponsor. Among the approved facilities were the notorious Idaho Correctional Center or “Gladiator School”, Kentucky’s Otter Creek Correctional Center, where six CCA employees were charged with sexually abusing or raping prisoners, and Arizona’s Saguaro Correctional Center, in which two prisoners were murdered in 2010.
Not only are there clear conflicts of interest with a result of dangerous, abusive facilities receiving accreditation that many assume is impartial and legitimate, but a former ACA auditor admitted to falsifying documents for CCA’s accreditation. Donna Corno, who is also a former CCA employee, candidly admitted that she helped falsify documents for an ACA audit. “I was the person who doctored the ACA accreditation reports for this company," she stated in December 2008, referring to her employment at the CCA-operated Southern Nevada Women’s Correctional Facility.
And CCA is unfortunately not alone. Many of this year's private prison and health care sponsors have their own history of receiving ACA accreditation in the midst of scandal. Buying the favor of an accrediting agency that has no oversight over its own practices is no way to ensure a safe and functional correctional system.