The Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) operates 122 facilities housing nearly 160,000 federal prisoners. The BOP has numerous policies in caring for those in custody but a a review by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the the BOP and American Correctional Association (ACA) agreed that ACA would rely on the BOP’s internal program review reports. As a result, it appears the BOP is, in effect, paying ACA to affirm the BOP’s own findings and thereby providing no real certification or action for improvement.
The BOP has aging facilities that are in dire need of repair. It has been estimated that the BOP needs nearly $2 billion to bring all of its institutions, many that are over 50 years old, up to modern standards. The U.S. Senate proposed $209 million for the BOP’s building and facilities account in fiscal 2024, while lawmakers on the House side have sought to allocate $273 million in their draft Commerce-Justice-Science spending bill. Both are far short of what is necessary to repair these aging prisons. To identify facility needs, audits and oversight are needed to address issues at prisons so that they can be fixed/upgraded. OIG concluded that there is little value in the accreditations and, as a result, real failures at BOP facilities are not being addressed.
This report comes after OIG conducted surprise visits to two women’s facilities, FCI Tallahassee and FCI Waseca where OIG auditors found crumbling infrastructure, shortages for medical staff and rotten food being served to inmates. It makes one wonder what standard these facilities are held to and who is providing oversight.
The BOP awarded a $2.75 million contract to the ACA in 2018 to obtain accreditation and reaccreditation for BOP facilities. OIG’s conclusion was that “… that the BOP does not appear to be receiving value from the ACA reaccreditation process as implemented. We also did not identify instances where the BOP used ACA’s accreditation process to improve BOP standards for health, safety, and security of inmates and staff.”
Although BOP facilities are not required by law or regulation to go through any accreditation or reaccreditation process, BOP believes it is an important correctional industry practice to have its facilities accredited. BOP officials informed OIG that the ACA contract enabled BOP to obtain an independent, third-party review of its operations and programs to ensure compliance with correctional industry practices and standards. Currently, all BOP facilities have received accreditation by ACA.
During the reaccreditation process, ACA reviewers review and sample records, files, and logs from the 3-year period to determine if continuous compliance has been maintained. According to ACA’s policy manual, ACA’s process for reaccreditation mirrors that of initial accreditation, including the Visiting Committee process and the format and time frame for completing the Visiting Committee Report (VCR). However, OIG reported that current BOP and ACA officials told them that there was an agreement whereby ACA modified its standard reaccreditation process for BOP facilities. Among other things, the agreement eliminated the file review normally performed by the ACA Visiting Committee—and thereby its independent assessment of the facility—and instead provided that ACA would rely on the BOP’s program review process. The result is that it is the BOP reviewing the BOP and there is no real accreditation taking place.
As of June 2023, all BOP facilities were fully accredited by ACA. Each fiscal year, approximately 35 BOP institutions and other facilities undergo the process to prepare for ACA’s reaccreditation (or in rare case accreditation) review, and each Management Analyst is responsible for managing the review of approximately 8 to 12 of these institutions and facilities.
While OIG noted the intent of the BOP to have an independent assessment of its practices, as stated by BOP officials, BOP’s policy states that reaccreditation will be accomplished through the BOP’s program review process with ACA reviewers accompanying the program review team to observe the process being performed to ensure the integrity of the program review process. However, ACA did not consistently perform procedures to validate the integrity of the BOP’s program review process. As a result, the BOP is, in effect, paying for ACA to adopt as its own the BOP’s findings from its program review process, and OIG therefore concluded that it appears that ACA’s reaccreditation process does not valuably enhance the BOP’s operations and programs as currently implemented.
Infrastructure is just one aspect of a review. In a September 2023 review of personnel shortages in federal health care programs during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee found that from mid-2019 through mid-2021, the BOP made progress toward addressing its shortages of health services personnel. However, the overall fill rate for institution health services positions never exceeded 85 percent, and the fill rate declined from August 2021 through at least July 2022, which appears to be driven both by a decrease in hiring and an increase in resignations.
The challenges just keep coming. The Pandemic Response Accountability Committee report findings are consistent with a 2021 OIG survey of BOP staff perceptions of the BOP’s pandemic response, which indicated that nearly one-third of BOP staff were considering leaving their jobs. Additionally, the 2022 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey results indicated that BOP staff were dissatisfied with their job and organization and the BOP ranked last out of 432 federal subcomponents in the area of employee engagement and satisfaction.
There is a reason the BOP is having continuous problems at its facilities and the revelation of these ACA audits are not only a waste of tax payer funds, they doing little to improve the operations of federal prisons which are woefully outdated and understaffed.