Q&A Sept/Oct 2008 – Postcard from the Big Easy


American Correctional Association President Gary D. Maynard, M.S., talked about his tenure at the head of the national organization during an interview with Correctional News at the ACA 2008 congress in New Orleans.

Maynard has served as president of the 22,000-member American Correctional Association since 2006 following his election to the post of president-elect in 2004. With a background in counseling psychology, Maynard has more than 35 years of experience in the corrections field, serving as director of the Department of Corrections in Iowa, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Q: What is the role of the ACA?

A: The ACA, and prior to that as the American Prison Association, we have a history that dates back to 1870, a history that includes great leaders like former President Rutherford B. Hayes, who also served as president of this organization. As an organization, we have always focused on bringing together administrators of prisons to share their knowledge, experience and expertise.

Q: Has the ACA’s role changed over the years?

A: Today, our organization reflects the entire gamut of corrections from prisons to jails to community corrections and we represent all these different institutional elements. As the only representative organization in the United States that encompasses all the various components of corrections we play a very important role as the source and enforcer of standards. So, in addition to our other functions, from member representation to public safety to knowledge sharing to legislation, we have become more focused on establishing and spreading industry standards for each of these different operational components.

Q: Why is national standardization so important?

A: Without standards, we cannot know where we are going. In the absence of consistent standards for jails and prisons throughout the country, facility conditions and agency operations are left to the whim of each jurisdiction. Pulling together experts to study what works and to develop best-practice standards that can be applied consistently throughout the United States enhances operational efficiency, inmate outcomes and public safety. From our perspective, any jurisdiction or agency that is attempting to achieve ACA standards will provide better service and deliver better conditions to all their constituents, be they staff, inmates, the public or lawmakers. Without best-practice standards there is no motivation to improve.

Q: Does the ACA look at what other countries around the world are doing?

A: When it comes to adopting components or initiatives from other systems and other countries, of course it is a good idea to take a look at new or innovative practices and approaches. The ACA established a committee that is tasked with looking to other countries to see what is working there and evaluating whether it can be applied here. However, it can be a difficult proposition and one has to consider established law and history of jurisdictions and those of the other country. From that perspective, it is not always possible to transplant a good idea or practice from one country and implement it here in the United States. The reverse is also true.

Q: How do you feel now that your time as president is almost at an end?

A: It has been a lot of work with a lot of hours and effort, but looking back I can say that I have enjoyed almost every minute. I will certainly miss it. Although officially, I still have one more day before I move into my new role on executive board, which comes with its own set of duties, tasks and responsibilities. In truth, when you are elected to the position of ACA president you sign on for a six-year tour of duty. You spend two years as president elect, shadowing the incumbent and preparing for your two-year term as president, and then you spend a further two years after term transitioning out of the presidency as a member of the ACA’s executive board.

Q: What have you accomplished during your tenure?

A: At the beginning we set several major initiatives that we wanted to accomplish during my time as president. Our membership, like those of many other organizations, had been declining and we wanted to reverse that trend. It is my firm belief that someone who belongs to a representative body or association is inherently more engaged with their chosen field of work and career. As a member of an association, such as the ACA, you become more engaged with other professionals in corrections and related fields. The knowledge sharing and exchange of experience and expertise that results can only enhance the performance of all parties and the field of corrections as a whole.

I am proud to say that through various strategies we were able to turn around the declining trend and increase our membership by 10 percent in the past two years to 22,000. Let’s be clear though that increasing our membership is not about dues, which account for only about 10 percent of our revenue. This is about providing corrections professionals and our members with the opportunity to do a better job than they currently are, which improves service to the community, inmate outcomes and public safety.

Q: Are there other achievements you feel are of major significance?

ACA President Gary Maynard announces the grand prize finalists as the Congress comes to an end.

A: A second area of major focus during my time was that of the accreditation of jails. Less than 200 of the roughly 3,700 jails throughout the United States are accredited by the ACA, compared to between 40 to 50 percent of prisons. We realized that most of the jails are small facilities with less than 500 inmates, while the accreditation standards that existed were developed for larger facilities. Small jails choose not to engage in the process because accreditation seems financially and operationally beyond their capability and they could not hope to meet the exceptionally high standards developed for large-scale facilities.

Accreditation is a very important issue, so our jails committee set about drafting a core set of jails standards — for facilities with populations of less than 500 inmates — that the smaller facilities could strive for and achieve. Now we are aiming to have several thousand jails accredited. As an agency or jurisdiction, if you are not pursuing accreditation then you are stagnating and not improving your standards to the necessary level. ACA-accredited jails and those agencies that are at least pursuing the standards provide a safer, more progressive and more efficient environment for offenders and corrections staff, which improves service delivery and operations and benefits inmate outcomes and public safety.

Q: What other initiatives have you successfully implemented?

A: Healthcare is another major issue area for the ACA and our membership. We wanted to attract more healthcare professionals to our organization, so we set about developing workshops tailored to the field of correctional healthcare and established an accreditation process for correctional healthcare professionals.

At the 2007 winter conference, we launched the healthcare professional interest section, which provides specialized sessions, training and certification exams. The creation of this correctional healthcare group has helped us to increase our membership in this area and generated more conference participation by correctional healthcare professionals. Our healthcare committee continues to develop and refine performance-based standards for correctional healthcare, which are designed to create a safer, more effective correctional healthcare system. In addition, we recently established a committee to research the containment and management of pandemic disease and infection outbreaks and develop response strategies tailored to the correctional setting.

Q: What legislative initiatives did you prioritize during your presidency?

A: In advocating for legislation in areas of criminal justice and public safety, we consistently partner with other representative organizations from the fields of criminal justice.

We work hard to reach out to Congress and lawmakers with a single, unified voice that makes an informed, collective statement about what is good for the fields of criminal justice and corrections and for the community as a whole. In addition to issues of conditions and operations, as an organization we have been focused for some time on inmate outcomes and reducing recidivism. We have worked hard to increase federal funding for substance-abuse programs and other treatment programming that can help prevent offenders from returning to the corrections system.

Q: What specific legislative measures has the ACA worked to pass?

A: In representing the voice of jails and prisons, we have worked very closely with many organizations, such as the National Sheriff’s Association, the American Probation and Parole Association, and the Association of State Correctional Administrators to help pass the Second Chance Act, which represents a very significant piece of legislation. We also worked for the incorporation of performance-based standards into the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Q: As you leave office, what are some of the major challenges facing the field of corrections?

A: The continuing strength, influence and growth of gangs, their involvement with drugs and the resulting violence represent a major challenge for us today and in the future.

Of course, the increasing inmate population has always been a challenge for us. We know the number of inmates incarcerated in our prisons and jails is more than the rated capacity of these facilities. So addressing the inmate population and housing capacity in the coming years is critical.

Q: How does the ACA tackle such challenges?

A: Typically, we try to deal with challenges, such as population growth and housing capacity, by presenting sound information to legislative bodies and advising them about the best course of action. We have an obligation to our membership and the public to educate lawmakers through comprehensive analysis about the potential and probable outcomes of legislative decisions and the negative or positive impact legislative action or inaction on corrections, public safety and the community as a whole.

Q: What other major challenges does your membership face?

A: Information technology, its application, its absence, and its current state in corrections represents another significant challenge. Some of the technology being used in our jails and prisons today is so outmoded that it may as well be from the Dark Ages. As an organization, we are working hard to educate our membership in the area of information technology, and encouraging and supporting the deployment of technology, such as Web-based facility and data management systems throughout the country.

Q: What about environmental sustainability in corrections?

A: There is no question that environmental sustainability is a major issue, even for corrections. Our members, be it at the state or local level, are beginning to see the potential benefits of incorporating environmentally sustainable elements and systems into the design of new facilities and the operations of existing ones. In a similar vein to the growing interest in evidence-based facility design and programming, going green is creating a buzz right now and as our members learn more about sustainability, I think the more they will embrace the possibilities.