Since 1954, the American Correctional Association has published operational standards designed to enhance correctional practices for the benefit of inmates, staff, administrators, and the public.  In the decades since the Manual on Correctional Standards- First Edition was created, the Association has diversified and extended its standards and today publishes 22 different manuals for all areas of the field of corrections.  This includes dedicated manuals for the operation of differing facility types, including prisons, jails, juvenile correctional facilities, juvenile detention facilities, probation/parole agencies, halfway houses, and others.  Similarly, ACA publishes standards for correctional programs that impact multiple facilities such as correctional industries (manufacturing programs), food service, electronic monitoring, therapeutic communities, and central office administration.  Recently, the Association added new International Core Standards, designed to implement basic correctional practice on the international level.       

Across the United States and the world, the ACA standards have been integrated into routine operations in more than 1,300 facilities and agencies.  Tens of thousands of staff and inmates are impacted by the ACA standards on a daily basis.  For more information on the creation and monitoring of the ACA standards; individual standards manuals; updates and interpretations from the ACA staff; or to purchase the ACA standards, explore the links on this page.

What are ACA's Standards?

Since their inception, the ACA standards have served to establish a fundamental operational structure for facilities and agencies that have implemented them.  ACA standards interface with all aspects of operations, including safety, security, order, care, programs, justice, and administration, among others.  While ACA standards provide guidelines for these areas and require the existence of some specific practices or conditions, they are designed to facilitate the development of independent agency policy and procedure that govern the agency’s everyday operations.  Since the mid-2000s, ACA standards have gradually migrated to a “performance-based” model in which agencies collect, track, and analyze internal outcomes related to each standard in order to gauge their performance and adjust their operations accordingly.  This model has proven to be a successful method of improving agency operations through the use of real-time data with an immediate and significant impact on inmates, staff, and administrators throughout the facility or agency.

ACA standards guide operations in every area of the facility or agency.  Secure facilities such as jails and prisons must operate effectively as self-contained communities in which all necessary goods and services are provided in a safe, secure, and controlled manner.  ACA standards relating to safety require adherence to all federal, state, and local fire and safety codes; emergency planning and preparation; and the provision of related training and materials for staff and inmates.  Security standards mandate inspections and training of all firearms and armed officers; visitor and staff searches and tracking procedures; and inmate counting and tracking procedures.  Other sections throughout each manual regulate policy, procedure, and practice at a similar level for other institutional or facility activities.  

ACA standards are divided into two categories: mandatory and non-mandatory standards.  In order to be accredited, facilities must meet the requirements for all applicable mandatory standards and 90% of applicable non-mandatory standards.  Due to differences in mission, physical plant, and jurisdictional intricacies, not all standards may apply to a given facility.  Those standards deemed to be non-applicable to a particular facility are deducted from the calculation of the facility’s compliance score.  Similarly, some standards (especially those regulating physical size and/or space limitations) are deemed applicable only to facilities built after a certain date in order to allow facilities sufficient time to design new facilities around ACA requirements.  

For more information on the ACA standards, explore the other parts of this section.  These include the Manuals and Supplements section, which lists each of the 25 accreditation manuals published by the Association.  It also includes the Updates and Interpretations section in which ACA staff posts specific changes to the standards that are important for both facilities and ACA auditors.      

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