After all the negative publicity about former Angola Warden Burl Cain, Thursday’s news release was almost enough to restore your faith in the Louisiana Department of Corrections.
That is, until you peel back the layers and take a deeper look beneath the typical hype that regularly comes out of state agencies in order to put them in the best light.
Like almost everything political, Rule One is follow the money. Rule Two is see Rule One.
The glowing news release trumpeted the news that auditors from the American Correctional Association (ACA) had given “high marks” to three Louisiana correctional facilities.
The release touted the 100 percent grades in mandatory standards attained by Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, David C. Knapps correctional Officer Training Academy, and Raymond Laborde Correctional Center. Knapps also received a 100 percent rating in non-mandatory standards and Angola and Laborde each received 93 percent in non-mandatory standards.
“ACA audits are done every three years. Other Louisiana state prisons not audited during this cycle will be re-audited in future cycles,” the news release concluded.
But what is accreditation from ACA really worth?
And how much did Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc pay for the favorable ratings?
The likely answers to those questions are, in order: not much and plenty.
LouisianaVoice, almost three years to the day (Oct. 11, 2013) published harsh criticisms of ACA’s methods of accreditation.
In 2010, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) trumpeted the re-accreditation of five of its private prisons by ACA. But what CCA did not reveal was that it had paid ACA more than $22,000 for those five accreditations, that CCA employees serve as ACA auditors, that CCA is a major sponsor of ACA events or worse, and that accredited CCA facilities had experienced major security problems.
The ACA relies heavily on such fees; it reported receiving more than $4.5 million in accreditation fees in 2011 – almost half its total revenue that year. The organization thus has a financial incentive to provide as many accreditations as possible.
Notably, the accreditation process is basically a paper review. The ACA does not provide oversight or ongoing monitoring of correctional facilities, but only verifies whether a facility has policies that comply with the ACA’s self-promulgated standards at the time of accreditation. Following initial accreditation, facilities are re-accredited at three-year intervals.
But how do the courts view ACA accreditation – and comparable accreditation of prison and jail medical services by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC) – both in terms of claims alleging violations of accreditation standards and as a defense by prison officials?
The U.S. Supreme Court noted in Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 543 n.27 (1979) that accreditation does not determine constitutionality. With respect to standards established by organizations such as the American Correctional Association, the Court wrote: “[W]hile the recommendations of these various groups may be instructive in certain cases, they simply do not establish the constitutional minima; rather, they establish goals recommended by the organization in question.” https://www.prisonlegalnews.org/news/2014/oct/10/how-courts-view-aca-accreditation/
The standards are established by the ACA with no oversight by government agencies, and the organization basically sells accreditation by charging fees ranging from $8,100 to $19,500, depending on the number of days and auditors involved and the number of facilities being accredited.
Perhaps it is only coincidence that LeBlanc is a member of the ACA’s Commission on Accreditation for Corrections (go to the second page of this link) or that Burl Cain is still listed as a member of ACA’s Executive Committee.
One of ACA’s past presidents, Richard Stalder, while serving as Louisiana State Corrections Secretary in 1993, canceled spending on psychiatric counseling for troubled teens so that he could give out $2.7 million in raises to his staff, according to New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Jack Wardlaw.
In 1998, the new Jena Juvenile Center came under fire for widespread problems, including a near-riot, poor teaching and security and physical abuse and in 1999 the juvenile facility in Tallulah was taken under state control after five years of repeated problems with private ownership despite its having received accreditation and a positive report only six months earlier from ACA and Stalder.
By 1995, the ACA accredited all 12 prisons in Louisiana, passing the last two with a 100 scores. That year, more than 125 prisoners sued Stalder for mistreatment within the prisons. Meanwhile, only a month after Angola prison of Louisiana was accredited, it was reported that around $32 million were needed for repairs so the prison could meet safety requirements, according to Baton Rouge Advocate reporter James Minton.
Stalder rejected all the claims, saying that he and his staff deserved “a pat on the back,” but in June of 1995, Federal Judge Frank Polozola criticized Stalder for the way in which he ran the state prison system.
“Louisiana incarcerates a higher proportion of our citizens than almost any other state,” Stalder said in 1995. “Yet we continue to be frustrated by the reality that many violent and dangerous people who should be locked up are not.”
Later that year, a doctor and a nurse reported severe problems with medical treatment at Angola. Prisoners with fractures were splinted, and then not seen for months, leading to bone deformities. Air from a tuberculosis ward was drawn into the main infirmary. A Justice Department report also found the prison’s medical records to be in terrible shape, according to Advocate reporter Fred Kalmbach.
In June of 1995, Judge Frank Polozola was critical of Stalder for his efforts to hold more inmates in the parish and private prisons of Louisiana, suggesting that Stalder was doing so in order to receive more money from the state government, which pays the sheriffs $21 per day per inmate in a private or parish prison, Minton wrote.
Polozola accused Stalder of catering to Louisiana’s sheriffs by refusing to allow state prisoners, who were supposed to be in the private prisons only temporarily, to return to the state prisons.
Just months later, Stalder was in trouble again when he allowed a can relabeling plant to open illegally at the Angola Prison. He was fined $500. Inmate William Kissinger, a legal adviser to other inmates, then sued Stalder for $600,000 after he reported the relabeling plant to authorities and was consequently removed from Angola prison and put on a prison farm.
The prison at Angola, meanwhile, received the same score from the ACA in 1996 as it did when it was first accredited in 1993.
Although the Louisiana state juvenile facilities attracted attention during 1997 for reports of abuse from guards at the facilities, Stalder himself was not in the spotlight until a private investigator found evidence that Stalder had allowed a priest who had been imprisoned for child molestation to receive special treatment at Wade correctional facility while Stalder was a warden there.
Because Jena’s goal was to meet the accreditation standards, The ACA was also criticized and characterized as “not highly respected…they will judge a facility on whether they have policies and procedures in written form,” wrote Times-Picayune reporter Steve Ritea.
We can’t wait ACA’s re-audit of the other state prisons.
Any bets on what those scores will be?