BOP Drops Accreditation Org After IG, Sens. Raise Concerns

By Courtney Bublé | April 1, 2024, 5:57 PM EDT ·

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has let its $2.75 million contract with its accreditation organization expire, after a group of Democratic lawmakers and the bureau's watchdog raised concerns that the group wasn't effective or objective.

The American Correctional Association, which accredits correctional facilities at various levels, first started accrediting BOP facilities in 1980. However, the bureau said on Monday it has decided to part ways.

"After careful consideration, the FBOP has decided to explore other options to ensure continued improvement and innovation in correctional standards for the well-being of adults in custody and the FBOP's workforce," a notice from the agency states. "The FBOP remains committed to a rigorous assessment of its policies and practices involving all levels of leadership to inform continuous organizational improvement."

The agency said that it has implemented the U.S. Government Accountability Office's auditing standards and that, going forward, it will "evaluate internal control options" for its facilities, also noting there is not a federal law or regulation that requires correctional facilities to be accredited.

In late February, Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon sent a letter to BOP and the U.S. Department of Justice urging them not to renew the contract.

They wrote that accreditation through the American Correctional Association is a waste of taxpayer dollars and is "largely toothless and is marred by conflicts of interest," citing a 2020 investigation by Warren's office. The association is dependent financially on the institutions that it accredits, and it represents their interests when it lobbies Congress, the senators stated.

The senators also pointed to a report issued in November 2023 by the DOJ's Office of Inspector General that was critical of the most recent contract, issued in December 2018, for accrediting institutions, training centers and headquarters.

"We do not believe that ACA's reaccreditation of BOP facilities valuably enhances the BOP's operations and programs," the report reads. "It appears that the BOP is, in effect, paying ACA to affirm the BOP's own findings identified through the BOP's program review process."

Additionally, the IG found that BOP's oversight and administration of its ACA contract was "inadequate."

The watchdog issued 10 recommendations for reform, all of which BOP Director Colette Peters agreed with. Nine addressed how the bureau should maintain the ACA contract while it remained in force. The other called on the BOP to review its accreditation policies to ensure they enhance BOP operations and instill confidence in the administration of BOP facilities, and to update policies and contracts as needed.  

A few weeks after the IG report was released publicly, BOP issued a request for information from organizations that could provide audit services for its correctional facilities.

BOP told Law360 that its partnership with ACA began in the 1980s, but declined to comment beyond its public statement when asked about the possible impact of the senators' letter and IG report.

"This is a huge win for anyone who cares about human rights," Warren, who spearheaded the letter, told Law360 in a statement. "After decades of rubber stamping unsafe and violent conditions in our federal prisons, the American Correctional Association can no longer continue to exercise its conflicting role as the lobbyist for prison operators and the oversight authority for federal prisons."

The senator added, "I'll be keeping an eye on the Bureau of Prisons' process for selecting a new accrediting body."   

The DOJ IG declined to comment and the ACA could not be reached for comment.

--Editing by Amy French.

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