Standards in corrections have a lengthy history. In fact, the American Correctional Association (ACA) dates the attempt to form standards for prisons to an 1870 meeting in Cincinnati, which resulted in the formation of the National Prison Association. While standards were discussed for years, it took almost a century later for real progress to be made when the Ford Foundation issued a grant to the ACA to develop formal standards. In 1974, the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections was established to review and evaluate compliance with the standards.
Today, ACA publishes more than 25 different accreditation manuals for all areas of correctional operation, including adult, juvenile, and community corrections as well as correctional training academies, industry programs, and central administration offices. The standards address services, programs and operations essential to good correctional management, including administrative and fiscal controls, staff training and development, physical plant, safety and emergency procedures, sanitation, food service, and rules and discipline. Standards reflect practical, up-to-date policies and procedures that safeguard the life, health and safety of staff, inmates and reentry program participants.
The GEO Group has been a major proponent of standards in corrections, and has embraced this belief with action. GEO has a goal of the prisons it operates being accredited by the ACA, and GEO launched an initiative to achieve accreditation for its residential reentry programs also. Today, 20 residential reentry programs are accredited, and eight more will achieve accreditation in 2020. GEO Care’s Reentry Services division provides individuals, nearing the end of their sentence with the resources necessary to productively transition back into society. Through residential reentry centers, GEO Care provides parolees and probationers with temporary housing, employment assistance, rehabilitation and substance abuse counseling, and vocational and education programs. GEO Care also provides reentry and supervision services through full-service evidence-based cognitive behavioral treatment programs at GEO’s non-residential day reporting centers.
The ACA’s 250 standards are rigorous and include 33 mandatory requirements. At the corporate level, GEO provides support and guidance for the residential reentry facility team, but the local team is responsible for fully embracing the process and achieving accreditation.
This national and local partnership between GEO and its GEO Care facilities has paid dividends. At the corporate level, a team audits the facilities for a number of factors. The ACA accreditation is then secondary, but in many cases, much easier to achieve for the facilities because they have been rigorously prepared. In fact, in 2018 the GEO Care residential reentry programs achieved an average score of 99.86% for ACA accreditation. Accreditation awards are valid for three years.
Additionally, accreditation includes a community engagement segment which includes facility staff, residents and the local community at large. This often takes the form of community service projects. The Beaumont residential reentry facility “adopted” a road near the facility for ongoing clean up, and residents have expressed thanks for the opportunity to give back to the community. In San Francisco, staff and program participants regularly participate in citywide clean-up efforts.
“Accreditation involves a very thorough review,” said Catherine Price, GEO Director of ACA Accreditation. “It’s a lot of work for the facility team, but it serves as a validation that they are doing a great job and providing quality services.”