Anthony Skeens, The Triplicate

Pelican Bay accredited by national correctional association

While Pelican Bay State Prison is scrutinized by legislators, prisoner advocates and inmates, it has received high marks from an outside prison auditor.

Pelican Bay recently attained accreditation from the American Correctional Association, an internationally recognized organization dedicated to providing training and development in prison operations and standards.

"It's a pretty arduous process," said Terry Thornton, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. "These are national standards. We have eight prisons accredited so far and have five more starting the process."

The accreditation came after an in-depth, comprehensive audit of prison conditions and operations. An audit team from the ACA visited Pelican Bay in April, scoping every area of the prison including the Security Housing Unit and spoke with several people from administrative staff to inmates.

In order to be accredited, Pelican Bay had to completely comply with 61 mandatory requirements in various areas such as sanitation and health care. It also had to score at least 90 percent on 450 other requirements not considered mandatory.

Pelican Bay complied completely with the mandatory requirements and 97 percent with the non-mandatory requirements.

For the areas Pelican Bay failed to completely satisfy requirements, it has developed a plan of action.

One of the areas Pelican Bay slightly missed the mark on were the numbers of hours trainers were educated. Pelican Bay previously had trainers educated for 24 hours; now it has upped it to meet ACA standards of 40 hours.

In the minimum support facility where lower level offenders are housed, Pelican Bay will need to construct more toilets and showers in the dorm in order to meet ACA ratios of equipment to inmates.

ACA standards are 1 toilet for every 12 inmates and 1 shower for every 8 inmates. Pelican Bay's minimum support facility has 1 toilet for every 12 inmates and 1 shower for every 25 inmates.

Pelican Bay has submitted a plan of action and will seek to obtain $250,000 to upgrade the facilities.

Pelican Bay has also submitted a plan of action and will do a workload study on decreasing the amount of time between when an inmate is issued a minor infraction and the hearing for that infraction.

The hearings are currently scheduled within 30 days of the inmate being given a copy of the violations report, which must come within 15 days of the violation.

ACA standards call for the process to take no longer than seven days.

The positive remarks given to Pelican Bay include areas of contention from inmates, who have been on a hunger strike for 56 days.

The ACA auditors visited the food service department in Pelican Bay, which serves approximately 8,600 meals a day at a cost of $3.10 per inmate per day.

Breakfast and dinner are served hot and inmates are given a sack lunch. The food is approved by a registered dietician.

The meals were characterized as wholesome and nutritionally adequate, Thornton said.

The cleanliness of the overall prison was found to be at an excellent level, Thornton said.

Pelican Bay also recycles 50 percent of its trash, she said.

From the medical care standpoint, Pelican Bay received recognition for having an electronic health record database that enables all medical staff to access information for a specific inmate, Thornton said.

Medication is delivered each day by 1 p.m. Inmates requiring eyeglasses typically receive them within 90 days. And the medical department within Pelican Bay was found to be extremely active in implementing quality-improvement studies, Thornton said.

The overall security of the prison was found to be maintained by a "professional and well-trained staff," said Thornton.

It was also noted that Pelican Bay does not use disciplinary segregation as a sanction for institutional misconduct, Thornton said.

"Nor do they have a disciplinary segregation unit," said Thornton.

In addition to handling the inmates securely, Pelican Bay Staff was ruled effective at catching drugs and other paraphernalia that may be shipped through the mail center, which processes 5,000 pieces of mail daily.

The auditors also spoke to Pelican Bay inmates - including those in the SHU - who expressed feelings of safety and satisfaction with the health care they were receiving, Thornton said.

There were no issues brought up about visitation and exercise, Thornton said.

The few complaints received were about medical services and strip searches.

The interviews were conducted just between the auditor and inmates, while staff walked away, Thornton said.

"These hard-earned accreditations are only awarded to the best of the best in corrections," said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard in a press release. "The ACA was aware of the class action litigation against California, so it sent its most experienced auditors to review these prisons. Their findings demonstrate these institutions are providing quality health care and inmate programs and are employing the proper use of segregation. These accreditations are a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff."

Reach Anthony Skeens at