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American Correctional Association

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The American Correctional Association (ACA; called the National Prison Association before 1954) is a private, non-profit, non-governmental trade association and accrediting body for the corrections industry, the oldest and largest such association in the world. The organization was founded in 1870 and has a significant place in the history of prison reform in the U.S.

ACA accredits over 900 prisons, jails, community residential centers (halfway houses) and various other corrections facilities in the U.S. and internationally, using their independently published standards manuals. Approximately 80 percent of all U.S. state departments of corrections and youth services are active participants.[citation needed] Also included are programs and facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the private sector.

Shane Bauer of Mother Jones wrote that the ACA functions as "the closest thing [the United States has] to a national regulatory body for prisons" in addition to being the American correctional industry's trade association.[1]


The ACA was originally founded under the name National Prison Association. The driving creative force was the minister and reformer Enoch Cobb Wines, who organized an 1870 congress in Cleveland, hoping to introduce the principles of the progressive New York Prison Association to a national stage.[2] Former U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes served as the organization's first president in 1883. Out of geniune interest in the field, Hayes "missed no opportunity to speak with well-informed sincerity about more effective and more humane ways of dealing with offenders".[3] He remained president until his death ten years later.

Ohio publisher, political figure and frequent Hayes ally Roeliff Brinkerhoff succeeded him. For the next twenty years Brinkerhoff used the NPA as a platform to pursue basic correctional reforms such as the separation of state and federal prison systems, and the idea of parole, then a relatively new concept. With Brinkerhoff's influence the state of Ohio passed a state parole law in 1885, the nation's first. [4]

The organization's name was officially changed in 1954 to more accurately reflect the organization's philosophy and scope.[5]

ACA began exploring the feasibility of accrediting its members in the 1960s, funded in part by a sizable 1969 grant from the Ford Foundation.[6] In May 1974 the ACA created its "Commission on Accreditation for Corrections" in a meeting chaired by Walter Dunbar, a New York corrections figure known for his media-facing role at the Attica Prison riot.[7] (The ACA maintains an annual achievement award in his honor.[8]) The Vienna Correctional Center operated by the Illinois Department of Corrections became the first accredited adult correctional institution in 1979. [9]

In 2011 ACA began to branch out and the first detention facilities outside of the U.S. or Canada were audited. In January 2012 four Mexican facilities became accredited by ACA using their Core International Standards manual.[10]

According to their website ACA currently has more than 5,000 members.[11]


ACA hosts bi-annual conferences every year in different cities around the U.S. The first conference is the "ACA Winter Conference" with the year included in the title before ACA. Summer months play host to ACA's second conference of the year, the Congress of Correction. Notable speakers at ACA conferences have included General Richard Myers, Congressman Danny Davis, presidential campaign director Donna Brazile, presidential candidate and commentator Pat Buchanan, covert CIA agent Valerie Plame and her husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson, TV anchor Laurie Dhue, political analyst Charlie Cook, and Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak.


  • Executive director: James A. Gondles Jr.
  • Deputy executive director: Jeffery Washington[12]
  • President: Mary L. Livers
  • Vice president: Michael Wade
  • Treasurer: Gary C Mohr
  • Board of governors representatives to the executive committee: Burl Cain and William E. Peck

Past Presidents

  • Joseph F. Scott (1900-?) - After serving as the warden of the Elmira state prison, Scott became the superintendent of prisons of the state of New York. In 1900, Scott was elected president of the A.C.A.-predecessor National Prison Association.[13]
  • Harold W. Clarke (2008-2010) - Clarke directed corrections in Nebraska, Washington State, Massachusetts and is currently the Director of Corrections for the Commonwealth of Virginia.[14][15]
  • Daron Hall (2011-2013) - The Sheriff of Davidson County, Tennessee, Hall previously managed a Brisbane, Australia, prison for the Corrections Corporation of America[16]
  • Christopher B. Epps (2013-2014) - Indicted for eight federal charges of money laundering and taking $1.7 million in bribes from prison vendors, resigned as A.C.A. president and Mississippi Commissioner of Corrections, pleaded guilty, turned state's evidence and awaits sentencing.


Value of accreditation

In 1982 a 72-year-old senior judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge David L. Bazelon, resigned from the governing panel of the ACA with a 21-page statement of criticism. Bazelon had three years remaining on his five-year term. He described its lack of transparency and accountability, its apparent willingness to bend to political influence, and its dual role as a trade group and accreditor. Bazelon pointed out the apparent conflict of interest, writing, "How can the commission in good conscience represent itself as 'independent' and 'unbiased' while being financially dependent on the objects of its scrutiny?"

Bazelon also pointed out that ACA inspection teams at the Menard Correctional Center in Illinois, for example, did not even contact U.S. District Court Judge James L. Foreman, who had found the medical care so poor as to violate the constitution, and did not contact Dr. Lambert King, the special master Judge Foreman had appointed in 1980 to oversee the mandated improvements, before they filed their approving reports. [17]

Later critics have named several other institutions that retained their ACA accreditations while outside parties found grave violence and/or court-ordered reforms.[18] These include:

  • the private Otter Creek Correctional Center in Kentucky, accredited in 2009 despite multiple charges of sexual abuse that caused Hawaii to remove its inmates and the prison's closure
  • the Idaho State Correctional Center, also privately run, which retained its good grades from ACA throughout a long proven pattern of violence in the prison, understaffing, operator contract fraud, and multiple federal investigations
  • the private Walnut Grove Correctional Facility in Mississippi, accredited in 2012 when it was a juvenile facility, the same year U.S. District Court Judge Carlton W. Reeves described it as "a cesspool of unconstitutional and inhuman acts"[19]


On November 5, 2014, Christopher B. Epps resigned from his position as ACA president, shortly before the announcement of his indictments on dozens of corruption charges. Epps had been identified by a federal investigation conducted by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi called Operation Mississippi Hustle. Allegedly he'd taken $1.47 million in kickbacks, from 16 corporations, for his role in awarding nearly $1 billion worth of private prison contracts. Epps faced a possible 23 years after his 2015 guilty plea to money laundering and filing false tax returns related to the bribes.[20][21][22] Epps also resigned from his full-time job as Corrections Commissioner for the state of Mississippi on the same day.[22][23] Epps pleaded guilty to money laundering and filing false tax returns. His sentencing was repeatedly postponed.[24] Many vendors were indicted, some pleaded guilty, one committed suicide, and eleven more suspects may faced criminal bribery charges. The Assistant U.S. Attorney estimated the corruption's net benefit to prison contractors exceeded $65 million. [25]

James A. Gondles, Jr. became the Executive Director of ACA in 1990 after serving as the sheriff of Arlington, Virginia. Court records indicate a long history of suits and allegations of mistreating his staff. He was accused of sexual harassment, "acts of abuse of power," fraternizing and having sex with female deputies, bullying top aides and targeting Arlington County employees who supported his opponent during his 1987 campaign for Sheriff.[26] In 1988 while he was serving as Sheriff of Arlington County, The Citizens for Law and Constitution alleged that Gondles had performed "acts of abuse and power" as sheriff, such as bullying aides and bragging about having sex with female deputies. Also in 1988 Gondles settled a sexual harassment suit, brought by a female deputy, with a $25,000 payment and a public apology.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Bauer, Shane. "My four months as a private prison guard." Mother Jones. July/August 2016. Retrieved on June 27, 2016.
  2. ^ Marilyn D. McShane, Frank P. Williams (2 August 2004). Encyclopedia of American Prisons. Routledge. p. 45. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  3. ^ Keve, Paul W. (1995). Prisons and the American Conscience: A History of U.S. Federal Corrections. SIU Press. p. 24. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  4. ^ Keve, Paul W. (1995). Prisons and the American Conscience: A History of U.S. Federal Corrections. SIU Press. p. 25. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  5. ^ "ACA History". American Correctional Association. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  6. ^ Marilyn D. McShane, Frank P. Williams (2 August 2004). Encyclopedia of American Prisons. Routledge. p. 1. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  7. ^ "Walter Dunbar, Probation Chief Who Gave Data on Attica, Dead". New York Times. 30 September 1975. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  8. ^ "Walter Dunbar Accreditation Achievement Award". ACA. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  9. ^ "Vienna - it's a jewel among prisons". Chicago Tribune. 17 July 1979. Retrieved 1 September 2016. 
  10. ^ "Accreditation of the Mexico Federal Prison System: utilizing core international standards". 
  11. ^ "Past, Present and Future". Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  12. ^ "Contact Us". 
  13. ^ Colonel Joseph F. Scott dead, New York Times, December 15, 1918. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  14. ^ "2014 E.R. Cass Awards". American Correctional Association. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  15. ^ About Harold W. Clarke. Commonwealth of Virginia. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  16. ^ Meet Gus Puryear, Bush's latest villainous nominee for a lifetime judgeship, Alternet, Silja Talvi, May 4, 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  17. ^ judge-quits-panel-on-prison-ratings.html Judge quits panel on prison ratings, New York Times, Wendell Rawls, Jr., August 8, 1982. Retrieved 15 April 2016.
  18. ^ Friedmann, Alex (10 October 2014). "How the Courts View ACA Accreditation". Prison Legal News. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  19. ^ John, Burnett (24 April 2012). "Miss. Prison Operator Out; Facility Called A 'Cesspool'". National Public Radio. Retrieved 31 August 2016. 
  20. ^ In Epps case, still unclear who else is implicated, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Jeff Amy (AP), June 13, 2016. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  21. ^ Ex-prison chief's co-defendant wants to withdraw guilty plea, Jackson Free Press, Jeff Amy (AP), April 11, 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  22. ^ a b "The Prison Reform Blues". Buzzfeed News. Retrieved 26 January 2015. 
  23. ^ Christopher Epps, former chief of prisons in Mississippi, is arraigned, New York Times, Timothy Williams, November 6, 2014. Retrieved 13 September 2015.
  24. ^ Epps' Sentencing delayed, The Clarion-Ledger, Jimmie E. Gates, June 8, 2015. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  25. ^ Prosecutor: 11 more to be charged in Mississippi prison bribery inquiry, Associated Press, Jeff Amy, June 30, 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  26. ^ "PIERSON v. GONDLES". Retrieved 29 January 2014. 
  27. ^ "Officers at the American Correctional Association". 

External links