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.
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.
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.
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.
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.