ACA accreditation is needed to improve Maryland's prisons

Contrary to a recent letter criticizing the American Correctional Association's role in accrediting Maryland's prisons, the cost of ACA accreditation — approximately $12,000 over a three-year period — is an investment that will surely benefit Maryland ("Prison watchdog group is a waste of money," Feb. 21).

The association sends nationally known experts from across the country to audit our prisons. It is already in two of our largest institutions, the Western Correctional Institution and Eastern Correctional Institution. Moreover, the state would pay accreditation fees for only 21 additional institutions, not the 32 cited in the letter.

When I arrived in Maryland in 2007 to head its correctional system, the state's prisons were widely known for violence. With the support of the O'Malley-Brown administration, we made creating safer prisons for offenders and correctional officers a top priority, starting with the closing of the Maryland House of Correction, possibly the most violent prison in the country at the time.

Since then, thanks to a relentless focus on developing gang intelligence, information-sharing with local law enforcement, capturing more contraband, interdicting illegal cell phones and a $1.1 million investment in new security technology, we've driven down serious assaults on correctional staff by 65 percent. Serious inmate-on-inmate violence is also down by 47 percent over the same period.

All of this has been made possible by the hard work of our correctional officers and employees to keep the public, our employees and our inmates safe.

With this foundation in place, we will utilize ACA accreditation to build on our success and take the system to the next level. ACA accreditation will help us standardize our policies, procedures and training based on nationally recognized best practices. That will propel us toward becoming one of the best correctional systems in the country.

Taxpayers will realize significant savings from a more efficiently run prison system. Reduced liability, better employee retention, fewer workmen's compensation claims, a more efficient inmate grievance process and fewer state audits are all potential benefits of ACA accreditation.

The benefits of ACA accreditation at the Western and Eastern Correctional Institutions can already be seen when comparing these facilities with similar non-accredited state institutions during the 2012 fiscal year.

Per employee workmen's compensation costs in 2012 were $566 in accredited facilities, versus $1,001 per employee in non-accredited facilities. Staff attrition was also lower in accredited facilities, an indication of higher morale, and there were fewer instances of staff discipline in accredited institutions than in non-accredited ones.

In addition, the rate of serious bacterial infections in ACA accredited institutions was half that in non-accredited facilities. And 100 percent of inmates in accredited facilities trust and use the inmate grievance process, versus only 59 percent in non-accredited facilities.

The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is building a system of true excellence, and ACA accreditation will help get us there. It will challenge us to stay on the cutting edge of correctional practices and hold us accountable for the efficiency of our operations. In a government agency, that should be something every taxpayer can appreciate.

Gary D. Maynard, Towson

The writer is secretary of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services.

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