Discovery Guides Areas


The Drain of Public Prison Systems and the Role of Privatization:
A Case Study of State Correctional Systems

(Released February 2010)

podcast link 
  by David W. Miller  


Key Citations



A Further Examination of Accreditation


All three privately operated correctional corporations mentioned above are viewed as professionally operated, as evidenced by the fact that 85% of CCA's facilities are accredited. Further, although no data identifies how many of Wackenhut's or Cornell's private facilities are accredited, Wackenhut recently received an award for operating the first accredited prison system in Pennsylvania. Wackenhut meet 100% of compliance standards, leading the Wackenhut warden to state, "Achieving ACA [American Correctional Association] accreditation is a direct credit to the dedication and professionalism of our entire staff. This award signifies the level of excellence provided by WCC's management team and field staff" (Wackenhut Corrections Recognized) Further, as previously mentioned, state run facilities are not required to seek accreditation through ACA, while all privately run prisons enter into a contract agreeing to seek accreditation within a specified time-frame and to continue to meet those standards once accreditation guidelines have been met (Harding, 1997). Harding writes, "The accreditation clause now, quite literally, appears in every prison contract; the private operators have, unlike those in the public sector, no method of choice about compliance. Even if the abstract law does not mandate this, private prisons are subjected de facto to a greater degree of external regulation" (1997).

Wackenhut Guard
Wackenhut Security Officer
Thus, all private prisons are either accredited or must become accredited to remain open, unlike public prisons which only voluntarily seek accreditation, leading to a lower percentage meeting accreditation standards. Accreditation increases accountability, causing the public to voice positive support for privately operated prisons in comparison to public prisons. The following paragraph highlights the accreditation process:

The standards used for accreditation address services, programs and operations essential to good correctional management, including administrative, staff and fiscal controls, staff training and development, physical plant, safety and emergency procedures, sanitation, food service, rules and discipline, and a variety of additional subjects. These standards are under continual review to ensure they are reflective of changing practice, current case law, new knowledge and agency experience with the application of standards. (Washington, 2005)
Despite appearing to play an important role in establishing transparency and accountability, accreditation, some argue, offers false evidence of quality. Harding (1997) writes "accreditation is plagued with a number of problems. The process does not require extensive contact with prisoners or physical examination of the prison facilities. Audits are always scheduled well in advance. Last, the ACA's primary source of income is fees collected from the prisons it audits. Therefore, the ACA has some interest not to fail too many prisons, since it is dependent on them for funding." Hambourger concludes, "it seems na´ve to look to accreditation as the solution to the regulatory problems."

In short, the ACA, which was founded in 1870 and prides itself on being an autonomous and independent agency, provides an in-depth program evaluation of facilities to determine which ones meet quality and safety standards. Institutions that meet its accreditation standards go through a lengthy audit process, and as such, both public and private facilities that become accredited should be considered as to provide better quality of services than non-accredited facilities: "Through accreditation, a correctional facility is better able to maintain a balance between protecting the public and providing an environment that safeguards the life, health, and safety of staff and offenders. Standards set by ACA reflect practical up-to-date policies and procedures and function as a management tool for agencies, private correctional management companies and facilities throughout the world" (Wackenhut Corrections).

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