Why facility accreditations are important

Line staff know it’s time to buckle down during this process but do they truly understand why these things are important?


By Laura E. Bedard, Ph.D.

Every year (or two or three), most facilities prepare for some kind of accreditation. We paint, review files, polish stainless and make sure our houses are in order. Line staff know it’s time to buckle down, during this process but do they truly understand why these things are important? It is our job as management to explain to both staff and inmates why accreditations are important in a correctional setting.

According to the American Correctional Association, the “first organized attempt to formulate standards for prisons occurred in 1870.” It was not until the 1960s that courts took an interest in the conditions of jails and prisons, thus forcing the industry to not only develop standards but to also develop methods to ensure compliance with those standards. 

Now there are several national accrediting bodies for corrections including, but not limited to, the following:

Audits and inspections force correctional facility leadership to inspect what we expect of our staff. (Photo/Pixabay)
Audits and inspections force correctional facility leadership to inspect what we expect of our staff. (Photo/Pixabay)

why correctional facilities apply for accreditation

The first thing the accreditation process does is keep us on our toes. We often get so busy putting fires out that we let things slip by the wayside (pipe chases are dirty, counts get sloppy, programs get delayed). So, first, audits and inspections keep us in check. They force us to inspect what we expect of our staff.

Secondly, audits help facilities limit their legal liability. If we meet national standards that set minimum industry standards, we can defend our actions. The bar is the industry standard and it assists us when something goes wrong – and in corrections, something will go wrong. 

For example, the American Correctional Association standard on inmate suicide prevention ensures that facilities have a prevention program in place, staff are trained, and mental healthcare is available to assist offenders with suicidal thoughts and or actions. This standard, and our ability to provide proof that we do what the core standards outline, will assist in potential litigation, but more important, may save a life.

Thirdly, accreditation has taken corrections from a vocation to a profession. Accreditation ensures a basic level of quality in what we do. It should be seen as a tool to help us measure where we are in meeting that quality and should continually raise the bar in our profession. Accreditation also allows us to compare to others in the business. Competition is an excellent way to motivate staff to achieve success. 

I encourage facility management to get staff at every level involved in the accreditation process. Encourage them to know that audit criteria and own their area. Help them see the importance of receiving accreditation. In addition, get the inmates involved as well. They tend to be a competitive group. I found when I encouraged them to become involved, they cleaned more, worked harder and were proud of our success. 

This article, originally published on 03/18/2016, has been updated. 

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