On November 9, 2010, a coalition of human rights and criminal justice organizations – the Alliance for Justice, Human Rights Defense Center, Private Corrections Working Group, Grassroots Leadership, National Lawyers Guild, International CURE, Detention Watch Network and Justice Policy Institute – announced their opposition to President Obama’s nomination of Stacia A. Hylton to head the U.S. Marshals Service.
The Marshals Service handles security for federal courthouses, apprehends federal fugitives and oversees the detention of federal prisoners awaiting trial or immigration proceedings.
Hylton, a former Acting Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals Service with a lengthy and distinguished career in law enforcement, was employed from June 2004 to February 2010 as the Federal Detention Trustee. Following her retirement she was nominated by President Obama on September 20, 2010 to direct the Marshals Service.
The day after the campaign against Hylton’s nomination was announced, the Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled her for a hearing the following week, on November 17, in an apparent effort to “fast-track” her nomination.
During Hylton’s tenure as the Federal Detention Trustee, GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest for-profit private prison company, was awarded a number of lucrative contracts to house federal prisoners. These included a sole-source ten-year contract at GEO’s Western Region Detention Facility in San Diego, generating approximately $34 million in annual revenue; a 20-year contract to operate the 1,500-bed Rio Grande Detention Center in Laredo, Texas with an estimated $34 million in annual revenue; and a 20-year sole-source contract to manage the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Lovejoy, Georgia, generating $16-20 million in annual revenue.
As reported by the Washington Times in an October 25 article, after retiring as the Federal Detention Trustee earlier this year, Hylton quickly accepted a consulting job with GEO Group through her Virginia-based company, Hylton Kirk & Associates LLC, of which she is the president and sole owner. In her financial disclosure statement, Hylton reported income of $112,500 for “consulting services for detention matters, federal relations, and acquisitions and mergers.” GEO Group is the only company listed in her disclosure statement in connection with those consulting services.
According to the Virginia State Corporation Commission, Hylton’s consulting company was formed on January 13, 2010 – more than a month before she retired from her position as the Federal Detention Trustee. However, in her questionnaire submitted to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, she stated she began working for her consulting company in March 2010, the month after her retirement.
“This is a prime example of the revolving door between the public and for-profit private sectors turning full circle,” said Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News,
a project of the Human Rights Defense Center that reports on criminal justice issues. “After cashing in on her experience in public law enforcement by taking a consulting job with GEO Group, Ms. Hylton has now been nominated for a high-level federal position where she will oversee detention services for the U.S. Marshals – including services provided by private prison firms such as GEO.”
“The U.S. Marshals preside over one of the nation’s largest privatized federal detention systems,” added Bob Libal, with Grassroots Leadership, a civil rights group that opposes prison privatization. “Policies that have driven the private prison expansion such as Operation Streamline are carried out by the U.S. Marshals. Ms. Hylton’s consulting work with the GEO Group, a troubled company that benefits handsomely from such policies, is a cause for major concern.”
Also while Hylton served as the Federal Detention Trustee, Corrections Corp. of America (CCA), the nation’s largest private prison company, was awarded a 20-year contract to design, build and operate the $80 million 1,072-bed Nevada Southern Detention Center. Further, under Hylton’s direction, the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee granted a sole-source 20-year contract to CCA to hold U.S. Marshals prisoners at the company’s Leavenworth Detention Center in Kansas, and approved a sole-source contract for CCA to house U.S. Marshals detainees at a prison in Pinal County, Arizona. Approximately 40% of CCA’s business comes from the federal government.
According to a February 26, 2010 post on a website for CCA employees (www.insideCCA.com), CCA president Damon Hininger attended Hylton’s retirement party in Washington, DC. Hininger noted that it “was a nice event and while there, I got the opportunity to speak with various USMS and ICE officials.” Why the president of the nation’s largest private prison company was invited to attend Hylton’s retirement celebration is unknown.
Additionally, in her response to a 2007 draft audit report by the Inspector General’s Office on oversight of intergovernmental agreements by the Marshals Service and the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee (OIG report 07-26), Hylton objected to the OIG’s recommendation that the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee “limit the amount of profit a state or local jail can earn for housing federal prisoners.” Since some jails that house federal detainees are privately-operated, Hylton’s objections apparently encompassed limitations on profit earned by private jail contractors.
“The primary goal of private prison companies is financial,” stated Charlie Sullivan, director of International CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants), a non-profit criminal justice reform organization. “This profit motive over-rides decisions on whether to release a prisoner and whether to provide rehabilitative programs.”
In 2006, Hylton gave a presentation to the Association of Private Correctional and Treatment Organizations (APCTO), an industry organization that advocates for private companies that provide correctional services, including prison privatization. APCTO’s membership includes Management & Training Corporation, a private prison contractor that houses thousands of federal detainees for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service.
“It is extremely worrisome that Ms. Hylton is nominated for a position where she would be directly involved with overseeing contracts with private prison companies to house federal detainees, given her cozy relationship with the private prison industry and her acceptance of more than $112,000 from GEO through her consulting work,” said Ken Kopczynski, director of the Private Corrections Working Group, a non-profit citizen watchdog organization that opposes prison privatization.
Despite repeated requests to both the White House and GEO Group, neither responded to questions regarding Hylton’s consulting relationship with GEO. Hylton could not be reached for comment as her phone number is not listed.
The Alliance for Justice, Human Rights Defense Center, Private Corrections Working Group, Grassroots Leadership, National Lawyers Guild, International CURE, Detention Watch Network and Justice Policy Institute announced their opposition to Hylton’s nomination based on her close ties to the private prison industry and the conflict those ties would create should she be appointed to direct the U.S. Marshals Service.
“While Ms. Hylton indicated she had spoken with the Office of Governmental Ethics to resolve any potential conflicts, the fact remains that she formed a consulting firm before retiring as Federal Detention Trustee, and apparently the only company she consulted for is GEO Group – which has received multi-million dollar contracts from the federal government, including the U.S. Marshals,” Kopczynski noted. “Given that she accepted money from the very industry she was overseeing as Detention Trustee, and will be overseeing again if appointed to head the Marshals, this is a conflict that cannot simply be waived. It ill serves the public for the Obama administration to nominate Ms. Hylton in light of such an obvious conflict of interest.”
“Last year, while states saw their prison populations decline for the first time in years, the federal [prison] population continued to rise,” added Tracy Velázquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute. “As taxpayers, we can’t afford increasing rates of incarceration, which we know is a failed public safety strategy that has terrible consequences for communities. The Administration should not be appointing someone working for the industry that most stands to gain by further increasing our country’s incarceration rate.”
The coalition of organizations opposing Hylton’s nomination will be contacting the Senate Judiciary Committee and the White House to voice their concerns. Concerned citizens who value integrity in our justice system are urged to do likewise. The Hylton opposition campaign is being coordinated by Alex Friedmann, who conducted a successful 2008 campaign against President Bush’s nomination of CCA general counsel Gus Puryear to a federal judgeship.
PAUL WRIGHT is director of the Human Rights Defense Center.
Click here to read the press release regarding the Hylton opposition campaign.
Click here to join a petition against the Hylton nomination.
Click here to take action! Contact the Senate Judiciary Committee to oppose Hylton’s nomination!