“The importance of maintaining military facilities, especially military confinement and corrections facilities, that meet basic health and safety standards cannot be overstated, and we are pleased that the Department takes this issue seriously enough to seek accreditation for its facilities,” the lawmakers wrote. “Unfortunately, however, it is not clear that the ACA treats its duties as accreditor with the same respect and care.”
The letter came on the heels of an investigation Warren opened last year into the private prison accreditation industry following widespread reports of mismanagement and poor conditions for detainees in facilities across the U.S.
The ACA touts itself as the “voice of corrections,” auditing private and public detention facilities and accrediting over 1,500 facilities in 49 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The ACA also audits and accredits several military corrections facilities in the U.S. and abroad. But documents provided to Warren’s office reveal that the ACA has not denied accreditation to a single facility in the last six years.
The ACA makes millions of dollars each year from its conferences, which are sponsored by private prison giants CoreCivic, GEO Group, and MTC — the very companies whose facilities the ACA audits to check for compliance with industry standards. The ACA also gets paid from accreditation contracts with prisons owned by these firms, creating an incentive to accredit a facility in spite of shoddy conditions.
An example of the ACA’s failings as an accreditor includes the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility in Mississippi. Run by GEO Group, the facility was accredited despite being described by a federal judge as “a picture of such horror as should be unrealized anywhere in the civilized world.”
Warren’s office found that several Army, Navy, and Marine Corps prisons rely on ACA accreditation, but the ACA grants those facilities three months prior notice of the audit; provides the facilities with a standards checklist; and even allows the facilities to decide when the audit will occur.
The lawmakers called on Esper to provide a list of all DOD facilities accredited by the ACA and any contracts between the Pentagon and the ACA. “The health and safety of the Department’s confinement and corrections facilities are critical to the rights and well-being of military and non-military personnel who are detained or work at these facilities, and to the national security of the United States,” wrote Warren and Gallego.
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