Who is the American Correctional Association?

In May of 2019, Deeper Than Water announced a campaign in partnership with local organizations to oppose the re-accreditation of NCCI Gardner by the American Correctional Association. Despite a long history of repeat health violations, as well as heart-felt testimonials from families impacted by this facility, the ACA ultimately re-accredited the institution.

Reporting by the Prison Policy Initiative and Prison Legal News has raised questions for a number of years about the exact nature of the ACA’s accreditation process. Recently, in the wake of horrific images coming out of ICE detention centers groups have begun to look into the massive deportation and incarceration machine that makes these camps possible, particularly on the companies and agencies that are supposed to make sure things like this never happen. The largest of which is the ACA.


So who are they?


Reporting over $16M in assets in 2016 with over $9M in annual revenue the ACA is the oldest accrediting body in the United States for prisons and detention centers. And while it is listed as a 501c3 entity with the IRS, it is a shockingly lucrative business: that same year, executive director James Gondle received over $440k in base compensation, with an additional $89k in “other compensation”, totaling annual earnings of over half a million dollars. While the agency reported lobbying efforts to the IRS, it failed to disclose just how much it spent in the process, leaving that part of their 990 filings blank.

The ACA can make as much as $10k on a single re-accreditation, but the high price tags ensure that no one is denied the ACA’s seal of approval. The ACA is a virtual degree mill for unscrupulous government agencies looking for a way to convince the public that everything is fine.  ACA leadership ensures that inspections will go off without a hitch by employing career prison officials from both the public and private sectors, enjoying a cozy relationship with groups like GEO and CoreCivic.


 ICE detention centers


The ACA has never met a detention center it didn’t love. 

For example, they accredit the ICE processing center recently visited by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, the El Paso Detention Center. El Paso also houses children who have been separated from their parents, many held in hieleras, or “freezer cells”.  El Paso is extremely overcrowded, and those who have visited the facility report that detainees are being forced to drink out of toilets to hydrate themselves.


Image outside the El Paso Processing Center


The ACA clearly has no objection to hieleras, as it also accredited the Cibola County Detention Center, where transgender refugee Roxana Hernandez died of pneumonia and HIV complications after being placed in a freezer cell this Spring.

Similarly, the ACA lists the Aurora Detention Center, run by the for-profit GEO Group. Aurora’s conditions are so bad that the Office of Inspector General (OIG) released this damning report for horrific conditions. Aurora is currently accredited by ACA.

Records available through the Freedom of Information Act also show that the ACA has been accrediting the Florence Service Processing Center in Arizona since 2007, when it granted ICE a 180-day extension on their audit before regularly granting them accreditation regardless of what was found. Florence has a horrific record, which the ACLU documented in this 2011 report. Florence has been back in the news this year for a Mumps outbreak. All the while, FSCP has enjoyed accreditation through the ACA.

In 2015, widespread abuses of detainees at Florence made the news again, joined by Eloy Detention Center which even failed ICE’s own internal audit. Despite this, Eloy remains an accredited facility on the ACA’s website.



Shockingly, the ACA has also accredited some of the worst prisons in the United States, including the Lousiana State Penitentiary, more commonly known as “Angola”, from its time as a plantation.  Currently, Angola is the site of ongoing scrutiny for deadly medical neglect, stifling heat. A video smuggled out of Angola was part of the lead-up to the 2018 National Prison Strike. This prisoner-made video shows an inside look at the cells the ACA has regularly accredited. 

Angola’s operations have changed very little from it’s time as a plantation.


Many, many other notorious prisons have also received uninterupted accreditation from the ACA. The East Mississippi Correctional Facility, whose horrific conditions and widespread abuses of mentally ill prisoners can be seen in this ACLU report is among those accredited. 

picture of rotting cell at ECMF
This EMCF cell is one example of the conditions the ACA finds more than acceptable. Click on the image for a virtual tour of the facility, courtesy of the ACLU. 




At the Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County, a pregnant woman in labor was put in solitary confinement for asking to see a doctor, forced to give birth alone. Other detainees described hearing the screaming from adjoining cells. Read the ACA’s glowing 2017 accreditation report of the Santa Rita Jail. 

The Dekalb County Jail, currently the site of ongoing protests shows a similar history of neglect and yet, inexplicably, re-accreditation. This may be more explainable than others, as some of Dekalb’s leadership sits on one of the ACA’s committees while the director of healthcare was nominated to the ACA Board in 2018.

instagram post from Dekalb


Something (still) in the water in Massachusetts

On May 10, the Massachusetts Department of Correction (DOC) received two awards — one from the Massachusetts State Senate and one from the Department of Environmental Protection. The awards were for “outstanding performance and achievement” in drinking water programs at the MCI Norfolk, Cedar Junction and Pondville.

See: deeperthanwater.org/gallery for a previous filter received at the start of our campaign


Earlier that week, we received a makeshift water filter made from a t-shirt from one of our inside organizers at MCI-Norfolk. You can see the filter below, discolored brown and with black shards of metal throughout, likely from the deteriorating pipes at the prison. The water at MCI-Norfolk remains unfixed and undrinkable, no matter how hard the state of Massachusetts is trying to cover it up by giving these undeserved awards. The award from the Department of Environmental Protection is particularly egregious, as this is the department responsible for keeping the DOC accountable to providing clean and potable water for prisoners.


Note: we are using a screenshot to prevent analytics stats from going to the DOC. If you would like to view the post in it’s original form, click on the image.


Please take a minute today to send three emails, demanding that the awards be revoked and that the Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts State Senate stop covering for prisons that are failing to provide basic human needs to those who are incarcerated:


  1. Yvette dePeiza, director of the Drinking Water Program for the Mass Department of Environmental Protection [yvette.depeiza@state.ma.usclick here to use our template 

  2. State Senator Karen Spilka [Karen.Spilka@masenate.gov] and State Senator Paul R. Feeney [paul.feeney@masenate.gov], representing the Norfolk region of Massachusetts on the State Senate
    click here to use our template


Let the people responsible for this award 
know how you feel.

The Prisoner Podcast

We are excited to announce the launching of a project that we’ve been working on for a while now, The Prisoner Podcast which will air live every Wednesday, hosted by brothers Adrian Coleman and Wayland “X” Coleman from both sides of the razor wire. 

One of the main difficulties in prison abolition work has been the dialectic of being prisoner-led without the ability to have prisoner voices live at most free-world organizing events. We believe that the most essential component of forging any true meaningful path to liberation involves actively pursuing ways to change this, and we aim to chronicle this process live. To date, Deeper Than Water has brought currently-incarcerated voices to protests, teach-ins, panel discussions and even a funeral where inside family were able to call in from the unit and participate in the memorial service. We hope to keep pushing these boundaries. 

Disallowing prisoner voices from communicating with the outside world, as well as the immoral prohibition on communication between currently and formerly incarcerated people, remains one of the most actively harmful policies of the carceral state. The state knows that a united people is the greatest threat to hegemony and will do anything in its power to stop this. 

At this stage, the show will be broadcast live every Wednesday at 7pm on this Youtube channel. Audio recordings will be posted to our SoundCloud page the following day and released on the Patreon page. The overall aim for this project is to provide direct access to what is happening inside, without interference from state or corporate actors. Adrian & Wayland will also be discussing political theory as it pertains to prison abolition. 


Prisoner Podcast News:

As many of you know, the Department of Correction has retaliated against Adrian by cutting off access to his brother. For Wayland’s statement, see the Soundcloud link above, or listen to the second episode of The Prisoner here: [ Soundcloud | Youtube ]

Opposing re-accreditation for NCCI-Gardner

For as far back as the Department of Public Health’s Community Sanitation Program inspections go, Gardner has been one of the worst maintained prisons in Massachusetts. Prisoners have reported black mold, filthy showers, dirty rust-colored water and animal feces routinely found throughout the facility. DPH records corroborate every claim, often showing that the same issues documented by state inspectors remain for years.

Overcrowding has also been one of Gardner’s largest problems: indeed, while the prison’s maximum capacity is rated around 630 people, state records show that over 970 people are currently held in the aging facility. The phrase “inadequate floor space in cells” is used to refer to almost every single living space in every inspection for the past decade. While inspections like DPH’s are done annually, the State’s own records show that little to no progress is made on critical issues for a decade at a time.

Please take a moment to sign our public letter asking CAC to reject the accreditation process: https://forms.gle/x6FFK1KLiVEyPGG7A

Reasons to deny the accreditation of NCCI-Gardner:
By: Wayland “X” Coleman

Essentially, this is a very old prison (over 100 years old). Many of the structures are in bad shape. We have support beams that are severely cracked and twisted, floors that are soft (the lightest person walking on the second floor shakes the entire floor), and our bathrooms are inadequate for the number of people living in the units. The dorms are overcrowded, and does not provide us sufficient floor space, and rust is also a major issue throughout the prison. I’m not sure of the age of the cleaning machines in the kitchen, but our feeding trays and cups are often dirty. Phone access is insufficient for the number of people housed in the unit(s) (5 phones for approximately 80 people), and the showers are too small for the number of people it’s designed for (8×10 space for 9 people to shower at a time, which is about 30 inches of shower space per person, in unit H). There is also a concern that having multi-person showers is contrary to PREA, where it creates an environment where people are forced to be naked together. Multi-person showers are outdated, and should be removed if the institution wishes to prevent rape or other forms of sexual assault. Several units also expose people to mold (especially in the summer, when you can smell it coming through the walls), and there are no places to access drinking water other than the bathroom sinks, which are often nasty. We have 3 bathroom sinks for 40 people, who wash their faces, hands, brush their teeth, spit in, and—often—blow their noses. These are our sources of DRINKING WATER! In addition, there are only 4 toilets for 40 people. The accreditation of NCCI-Gardner would prove to be a very low bar, especially when they have failed their own local Department of Public Health inspection(s).

It is rare that the state openly documents the presence of discolored water. Later in the report, the inspector indicates that when ask about the brown water, the prison simply showed them a report they’d done that said it was drinkable. In many ways, the neglect of NCCI-Gardner is simply a repeat of MCI-Norfolk.

#DeeperThanWater statement on the current heating crisis at MDC Brooklyn

At the present moment, approximately 1,600 people are being held captive in freezing temperatures at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn, NY. As temperatures in New York have gone down as low as 2°F, those detained inside report that internal temperatures are not much better, with prisoners using extra socks as gloves and wrapping themselves in whatever material they can to keep warm. While spokespersons for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) acknowledges a “partial power outage” may be responsible, they simultaneously have denied that heat nor hot water has been an issue. However, in addition to the the allegations of prisoners, families and defense attorneys, even the officers union and employees at the prison acknowledge the existence, prevalence and severity of the problem.

Extreme temperatures are nothing new in jails and prisons, nor are they ever acknowledged by state actors when accounts of these temperatures surface. As reported over the summer, prisoners in Massachusetts and around the country experienced severe heat inside MA state prisons, with temperatures going up to 115°F inside. In August 2018, the Department of Correction in Massachusetts quietly installed thousands of dollars of fans and ventilation equipment after a surprise inspection of three facilities was conducted by the Department of Public Health in response to the aforementioned heat crisis. Despite the surprise visits, the Department of Public Health claimed that it lacked jurisdiction over the issue, as no clear temperature limit is defined on law books.

In 2017, a viral video surfaced of prisoners screaming for help during a heat wave similar to the one described in Massachusetts. Despite the thousands of views by YouTube visitors worldwide, the State refused to acknowledge the existence of the problem. In Texas, a court settlement between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDJC) and the family of a prisoner who died from heat stroke has led to the slow implementation of air conditioning systems within the TDCJ to prevent further deaths. However, despite the installation of cooling units, the TDCJ has set the maximum temperature for 88°F, well above any guidelines set for any other air-conditioned building licensed to house human beings.  Daniel Holt of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School writes in 2015:

“Within a week of his transfer the indoor heat index hit 150°F and McCollum died of heatstroke. Earlier in the week, Douglas Hudson, 62, had died from heatstroke after three days at the Joe F. Gurney Transfer Facility in Anderson County, Texas. Two weeks later, Kenneth James, 52, also died from heatstroke three days after arriving at Gurney. A year later, Rodney Adams, 45, died from heatstroke the day after he arrived at Gurney.”

The use of extreme cold however has an even more insidious history within the carceral state. While the state murder of transgender woman Roxana Hernández sparked a public outcry, the state continues to use the “ice box” cells that led to the pneumonia that killed her within 5 days. Prisoners in US military detention have been forced to stand, kneel or squat in front of air conditioners at the highest possible setting while soaking wet for days at a time. Use of extreme cold are such a long tradition in detention centers and jails that they are typically referred to in internal documentation as simply “cold cells”.

Prisoners in so-called “Health Services Units”– units that ostensibly exist to keep prisoners at risk of self-injury from attempting suicide– remain at increased risk. In these units, prisoners are typically forbidden from wearing clothing and often have no sheets nor blankets. Minimized movement by physical restraints (nicknamed “turtle suits” by prisoners who have had to endure them) increases the risk of both overheating and freezing, as it disallows movement that might allow prisoners to move their muscles and maintain adequate blood flow.

Please find resources below/on the sidebar for how to participate in a national call-in campaign to end this needless suffering on the part of our loved ones inside MDC Brooklyn. We stand with our comrades and demand that this ends now. Lives depend on it.


Phone zap numbers:

Warden Quay & Associate Warden Ortiz at 718-840-4200
  US Marshall Assistant Chief McFarland at 718-840-4200 ext. 41740 

  Federal Bureau of Prisons:
  718.840.4200 x4740 for Nicole McFarland
  718.840.4740 for Adam Johnson

[ numbers per twitter sources. contact deeperthanwater@protonmail.com for any inaccuracies ]

Follow live on Twitter:

search hashtags: #MDCBrooklyn , #UntilThereIsHeat , #ShutdownMDC

Rally and occupation:

Remembering Alex Phillips

We are heartbroken to share that one of our dear friends, comrades and organizers, Alex Phillips has died of advanced colon, liver, lung and pancreatic cancer. Alex’s death comes one month after Alex made history as the first person to win compassionate release in the State of Massachusetts. Alex is survived by his mother Ann, who is a part of the #DeeperThanWater family.

While inside, Alex was heavily involved in exposing the poisonous water and inadequate medical care at the DOC, as well as for his role in the fight to reinstate real education inside. Alex was chair of the Norfolk Inmate Council’s Education Committee. An example of the committee’s incredible work can be found here [PDF]. In June 2018, Alex graduated Magna Cum Laude from Boston University’s Metropolitan College via BU’s Prison Education Program. Alex was the commencement speaker for his class.

Prior to his death, Alex was part of the effort to successfully bring back MCI-Norfolk’s legendary debate team, once home to Malcolm X during his brief incarceration at MCI-Norfolk. Alex and his teammates were featured on Morning Edition on the historic relaunch of the debate team:

From WBUR: He and his fellow debaters achieved their record against teams visiting from the likes of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, West Point, McGill and even the acclaimed Oxford University, whose undefeated 1959 string across America ended in Norfolk.” [ link ]

Prior to Alex’s release, he applied for two compassionate release petitions with the Department of Correction, both of which were denied. At the time of the second denial, the legitimacy of Alex’s illness was put on trial by Commissioner of Correction Thomas Turco III, a man largely responsible for the inaction that led to Alex’s early death. Turco deliberately misrepresented Alex’s psychological assessments during the decision-making process as documented by WBUR, and openly dismissed Alex’s entire team of highly qualified oncologists, saying that Alex did not appear to be sick enough. Six weeks later, Alex passed away.

Alex was released in October in large part due to a final CAT scan that revealed that the cancer the DOC fought so hard to ignore had invaded every part of his body. Two weeks prior to Alex’s death, he was being appraised of the vigil planning for Roger Herbert, a man who had been in Alex’s unit, who died from the same fatal condition. #DeeperThanWater is aware of a startling trend in prisoners at MCI-Norfolk who have been diagnosed with late-stage, fatal cancer. Alex spent his last weeks as he lived, working to end the epidemic of neglect and toxic conditions now claiming the people who became part of his family inside.

We do not have words enough to describe the feeling that comes from Alex’s passing. While we are forever grateful that Alex didn’t die inside MCI-Norfolk, we know that it pained him to the end that others were denied the chance that he was given. And we also join in the larger discussion asking why so many people are now dying. While there is no way to know exactly how or when Alex’s cancer formed, we know these things:

  1. Before entering MCI-Norfolk, he was 19 years old, and in excellent health as far as any physician had been able to determine.
  2. A little over ten years later, Alex’s body was ravaged by cancer.

  3. About two years ago, Alex began to experience excruciating pain and asked multiple times to see a physician. By the time Alex was taken to a qualified oncologist, he was given a year to live.

  4. During Alex’s incarceration with cancer, he was denied access to vital pain management medication prescribed by his doctors. Instead, Alex had to purchase his own over-the-counter NSAIDs via the canteen, NSAIDs that are medically contraindicated for hepatically compromised patients. Alex was forced to choose between slowing his accelerating illness, and managing his pain.

As we grieve, we look to a long history within radical organizing that says that that we can most honor the people that die by refocusing on the struggles they represented while they were alive. To quote visionary author and activist Cindy Milstein:

“Only because we fight- against losses that shouldn’t happen, and for spaces to grieve together in cities that increasingly isolate us and care for nothing. We fight not only for quality of life. We struggle for quality of death, for lives and deaths of our own making and mourning. We battle for a return to natural loss, such as the change of seasons and the seasons of life.”  [ Rebellious Mourning ]


Help make the DOC more transparent

In our experience, no matter what the state, prisons and detention centers are hard to get a hold of. We want to help fix that! Have you interacted with someone in a state/local prison? Detention center? Please fill out this form, and help us grow a crowd-sourced open directory. Entries will be cross-checked before they go live, so please include a source if you can!

If at a specific prison, please indicate which one
(if obtained online)

End Medical neglect in Massachusetts Prisons

Update: November 13, 2018

Thank you to everyone who came out to support Roger and call for an end to the medical neglect that is killing our loved ones and community members inside.

Balloons for Roger [ Vimeo ]


original interview here: Boston Neighborhood News. Backup: [ Mayfirst MP4 ]

original post: November 1, 2018

Medical neglect is prevalent in Massachusetts Department of Corrections and killing prisoners – our loved ones and family members. This week, we heard Roger Herbert’s story through his niece, Sophia Bishop-Rice. We demand justice for our fallen.

Roger has been held prisoner by the DOC for 28 years, and died two weeks ago at age 48. He is remembered by Sophia, his twin brother Ronald and found family inside prison as a role model, loyal, deeply compassionate and self-sacrificing.

Roger’s health began deteriorating noticeably in April of 2018, suffering from jaundice, a persistent cough and rapid weight loss. At $4 per visit, he consistently chose repeated medical visits over purchasing necessities like food and hygiene products at canteen or purchasing phone minutes to communicate with family members.

The DOC refused to provide any further testing until Sophia demanded it directly from the DOC Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner. Even then, Roger and his family received no diagnoses or further information for weeks after an MRI was conducted. It was only after he collapsed in the showers at MCI Norfolk in September that he was finally told he had angiosarcoma. Although she was his health care proxy and emergency contact, Sophia was only informed of Roger’s hospitalization after she tried to add money to his phone account and found he was at Lemuel Shattuck Hospital.

In his final weeks, Roger and Sophia were granted just one visit per week at the hospital. The superintendent granted one additional visit per week, but denied Sophia’s attempt at a third visit the week of Roger’s death because it was not “imminent” by the DOC’s definition.

During his “compassionate care treatment” at the hospital, he suffered inhumanely: medication affecting his bowels caused him to have diarrhea all over himself and his attempt for five minutes to use his nurse call button, which was found to be broken – even though he was supposedly on fifteen minute eye checks and two hour in-room service. During Sophia’s Wednesday visit, his required oxygen supply was not in place and he fell once the week before and once the week of his death due to inattention and consistent neglect.

His found family inside prison, his brother, and his niece all describe how he spent his 28 years in prison working tirelessly to support the other people inside. Those of you who follow our work know that those 28 years were also marked by deteriorating and toxifying water conditions at MCI Norfolk and other Massachusetts prisons. Directly or indirectly, environmental contamination and medical neglect and abuse led to Roger’s death.

To get at the magnitude of the person who has been taken from us: In a beautiful act of solidarity, his loved ones inside – those with jobs making at most $3/day, or receiving cash assistance from family member who find it difficult to make ends meet – pulled together enough money to cover his cremation and memorial expenses, a little over $2,000.00. Sparing his neice the daunting task of trying to raise the money.

We hold close all of those who escape the clutches of the Massachusetts DOC. And we grieve those who die at their hands.

We also call you to action – on Sunday, November 11, immediately following Roger’s memorial service, we will host a vigil and speak out to share the stories of those we have lost and fight like hell for the living.

Alex Phillips denied second petition for compassionate release

In the same heartless manner that Thomas Turco III has historically shown, he has elected to turn down Alexander Phillip’s second petition for compassionate release.   Ann Burke, Alex’s mother wrote on The Factual’s Facebook page:

“Good morning, 

We received an answer late yesterday afternoon.. once again Alex was denied release to come home. The answer came in 8 pages of Bullshit. Turco actually said:

 “I do not believe Mr.Phillips is Terminally ill within the meaning of the statute. Specfically, even though Alex’s Oncologist, who is employed by the DOC, wrote that he has less than 12 months to live and is so incapacitated as to not be a threat to public safety, I ( Turco) do not find him so debilitated as to not be a public safety risk” 

Alex is unable to open a package of cookies or a juice bottle. As you heard on NPR, he spends most of his time in bed only up to get medications or food. If you want to do something Call or Write to your local elected officials and ask them to make modifications to the current statue or to create a bill for Alex to let him come home. And Ask them to Do It Now!! Not in January when they are back in Full Session. Call or write the Governor.. who didn’t want this statue and is making an example out of Alex. 

I cannot tell you how sad I am and my family.. This is Not a Political Game, this is someone’s Life.”


We at the #DeeperThanWater Coalition join Ann in expressing our profound anger and disgust, not only at this decision, but at a system so soulless that it would make private promises to a family experiencing tremendous hardship only to betray them in a time of need. Turco demonstrates in this decision his unwillingness and disinterest in rehabilitation, as well as the arbitrariness of his decisions and policies. To disregard the professional opinion of doctors, therapists and psychologists, to misrepresent the findings of the 2009 “dangerousness assessment” (as was reported by WBUR) and to then publicly make a statement defaming a dying man is a perfect microcosm of Tom Turco’s approach to “correction”.

A career political bureaucrat, Turco has gone out of his way to silence prisoners who speak out about their rights and to punish those who suggest that there must be a better way to do this.

In many ways, Alex represents a fundamental threat to people like Tom Turco, as he demonstrates the tremendous possibility for self-change that people have. People like Turco, who is dependent on the prison industrial complex for power and wealth, have made an empire out of reassuring the public that the possibility for self-change does not exist. It is because of him that the recidivism rate in Massachusetts is so high. After all, if someone like Alex Phillips, who has been a “model prisoner” cannot receive compassion from the DOC, what incentive do prisoners have to better their lives?

In reporting  on the first time Turco denied Alex’s release, Boston Globe journalist Yvonne Abraham wrote on June 28, 2018:

He has also been a model prisoner, participating in every program he could find, tutoring other inmates, and recently receiving a bachelor’s degree from Boston University. Greenberg says he has not been involved in a single fight in 10 years.

If he is released, Phillips’s mother, Ann Burke, an oncology nurse who has worked in hospice, would care for her son in her home, and would buy him private health insurance, so that his care would not be a burden to taxpayers. Norfolk’s superintendent, who knows Phillips and can well assess whether he poses a danger to society, has supported his release.


Abraham’s article was called “At Department of Correction, a Death of Compassion” and can be found here. This past Thursday, Alex and Ann appeared on NPR to talk about the pain of waiting to find out if Alex can come home.

#DeeperThanWater is committed to continuing to fight for Alex to come home and is in the process of organizing a response to the (admittedly predictable) ongoing refusal of the state to act justly.