As the “oldest and largest international correctional association in the world,” the American Correctional Association (ACA) must have a very impressive record of professional development, accreditation, and oversight. However, this may not be the case when it comes to investigating instances of prison rape and sexual abuse.
The ACA has many responsibilities in the criminal justice world, but probably its main duty is to “evaluate [correctional] facilities on issues such as inmate health care, sanitation, food service, and personnel training.” Meaning, prisons will pay the ACA to accredit them.
The auditors will evaluate federal, state, and local prisons and jails, lockups, community confinement facilities, and juvenile facilities based on a customized set of standards for each type of correctional center. Based on their type of center, the auditors will see if the center is in compliance with the PREA standard of “mandating zero tolerance toward all forms of sexual abuse and sexual harassment.”
What’s strange is having the same company that is being paid to accredit a facility be responsible for making sure that facility was accredited for good reason (aka is adhering to PREA’s zero tolerance policy for prison rape). Somehow it feels like there could be a lot of potential for bias. That was the case in 1999, when a Texas court found several state prisons guilty of constitutional violations after they were audited and accredited by the ACA.
Now, 10 years after President Bush signed PREA into law, the problem has only become worse. According to the latest survey by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2011-2012, around “4% of state and federal prison inmates and 3.2% of jail inmates reported experiencing one or more incidents of sexual abuse within the past 12 months.” What’s worse: One in 10 youths reported sexual abuse in juvenile facilities.
Some may think these prisoners deserve their fate, but first read the stories of some of the victims. Take Scott Howard for example: a 39-year-old federal prisoner serving time at the Colorado Department of Corrections for fraud. He was repeatedly raped, assaulted, and extorted by members of a large, notorious gang, but nothing was done to protect him. Instead, he was called a “whiner” and was blamed for the attacks because he is openly gay. There’s also Ca’Linda from Kentucky who was sexually abused by staff repeatedly and her attackers were never held accountable. And then there’s Emmet’s story. An older inmate sexually assaulted Emmet at knifepoint when he was 18 years old in Florida. He didn’t tell anyone and was sexually assaulted again in 2004 by another prisoner and contracted HIV.
As part of PREA, states experiencing budgetary restraints receive grants to ensure prisons are held to their standards. At the end of the month, the Department of Justice will publish a list of noncompliant grant recipients.
Those who are not in compliance will see a 5% reduction in their budget each year until they meet the standards once again, and those who received grant money will have to return it until they are up to snuff.
Between the financial incentive and hopeful moral compass inside all of us, we could see those numbers of victims go down if we hold everyone — inmates, guards, prison administrators and associations — accountable.