The History of Standards & Accreditation

The first organized attempt to formulate standards for prisons occurred in 1870 at a conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. The conference, the “Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline” became the organizing meeting of the National Prison Association. The driving force behind the convening of the conference was Enoch Cobb Wines.

Standards were developed for prisons during the 1940’s and 1950’s. However, no method for verification of compliance was yet available.  ACA appointed a subcommittee to assemble and to publish the first standards manuals. Long before accreditation arrived in the field of corrections, accreditation had become a fact of life in other public services, particularly for academic institutions and hospitals. 

During the 1960’s, courts took an increased interest in prison conditions and began considering the constitutionality of a wide variety of prison issues. However, judges were reluctant to intervene in prison management issues. ACA was awarded a grant by the Ford Foundation to study the desirability and feasibility of establishing national correctional standards. ACA began the development of the national correctional standards that exist today. The goals of the standards were to prescribe the best possible practices that could be achieved in the United States, while being both realistic and practical. 

In 1974, the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections was established to review and evaluate compliance with the standards. Responsibility for rendering accreditation decisions rests solely with the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections. The standards developed by ACA are the foundation of the accreditation process. They define policies and procedures necessary for the operation of correctional programs that safeguard life, health and safety of the personnel who work in juvenile and adult facilities and programs; as well as the offenders who are a part of the correctional system.

ACA Standards

Today, ACA publishes 22 different manuals of standards for all areas of correctional operation, including adult, juvenile, and community corrections as well as correctional training academies, industry programs, and central administration offices.  Department staff supports the Committee on Standards in creating and refining the ACA standards to represent leading correctional policies, procedures, and practices across all areas of operation.  Proposals for revision to the existing standards are solicited from the field prior to each ACA conference.  All revisions must be approved by majority vote of the Standards Committee before publishing.  The results of each conference’s Standards Committee meeting are posted online via the Standards Committee Meeting Minutes, as well as bi-annually via the Standards Supplement.  A detailed description of each of ACA’s standards manuals can be found in the Standards section.       

ACA Accreditation   

ACA accreditation is intended to improve facility operations through adherence to clear standards relevant to all areas/operations of the facility, including safety, security, order, inmate care, programs, justice, and administration.  The Standards and Accreditation department’s staff facilitates the accreditation process from initial contact through assessment, contracting, preparation, the accreditation audit, and lastly the appearance before the Commission on Accreditation for Corrections for a final accreditation decision.  ACA Standards Specialists work directly with facility or agency management to introduce them to the accreditation process, provide necessary documentation, assign and train auditors to each facility, and discuss with facilities the specific requirements of each standard.  More information on the accreditation process can be found in the Seeking Accreditation section.