Prison Legal News, February, 2011
On December 21, 2010, just days before recessing for the holidays, the U.S. Senate confirmed Stacia Hylton as director of the U.S. Marshals Service in spite of opposition by a coalition of human rights, citizens’ advocacy and criminal justice-related organizations that argued she had a conflict of interest based on her close connections with private prison firms.
Hylton, a former Acting Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshals with a lengthy 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 to head the Marshals Service, which handles security for federal courthouses, apprehends federal fugitives and oversees the detention of federal prisoners awaiting trial or immigration proceedings.
During Hylton’s tenure as Federal Detention Trustee, GEO Group, the nation’s second-largest private prison company, was awarded a number of lucrative contracts to house federal prisoners. Those included a 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 on October 25, 2010, after retiring as Federal Detention Trustee, 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 statements, Hylton reported income of $112,500 for “consulting services for detention matters, federal relations, and acquisitions and mergers.” GEO Group was the only company listed in her disclosure statements in connection with such 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 Federal Detention Trustee. However, in a questionnaire submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, she said she began working for her consulting company in March 2010, the month after her retirement.
Also while Hylton served as Federal Detention Trustee, Corrections Corporation 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.
According to a February 26, 2010 post on a website for CCA employees (www.theinsidecca.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.
Further, in 2006, Hylton gave a presentation to the Association of Private Correctional and Treatment Organizations (APCTO), an industry organization that advocates for companies that provide correctional services, including private prison firms. APCTO’s membership includes Management & Training Corporation (MTC), a private prison contractor that houses thousands of federal detainees for the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, ICE and the U.S. Marshals Service.
Upon learning about Hylton’s cozy relationship with private prison companies, PLN associate editor Alex Friedmann organized an opposition campaign in an effort to derail her nomination. Previously, he had coordinated a successful campaign against President Bush’s nomination of CCA general counsel Gus Puryear for a federal judgeship. [See: PLN, March 2009, p.1].
The Alliance for Justice, Detention Watch Network, Grassroots Leadership, International CURE (Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants), Justice Policy Institute, Private Corrections Working Group, Public Citizen and National Lawyers Guild joined the opposition campaign, in addition to the Human Rights Defense Center (Prison Legal News is a project of the HRDC).
Additionally, the National Immigration Forum, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), upon being informed about Hylton, sent letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee opposing her nomination. The AFGE’s position was particularly notable as that union represents members of the U.S. Marshals Service.
The opposition coalition noted that thousands of Marshals detainees are housed in privately-operated facilities, including prisons managed by GEO Group. Thus, if confirmed, Hylton would be in a supervisory role over her former client that paid her to consult on detention-related issues, which would present a clear conflict. The coalition sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee members, then to all other U.S. Senators in opposition to Hylton’s nomination.
The coalition wrote that “As part of its business model the private prison industry seeks to increase the number of people who are incarcerated – whether that constitutes sound public policy or not. With her documented ties to private prison companies, there are serious concerns that under Ms. Hylton’s leadership, in which she would oversee detention services for the U.S. Marshals, there will be an increased reliance on the use of private prisons and a decreased emphasis on reducing levels of incarceration.”
Nor were such concerns hypothetical. “Last year, while states saw their prison populations decline for the first time in years, the federal [prison] population continued to rise,” said 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 [Obama] administration should not be appointing someone working for the industry that most stands to gain by further increasing our country’s incarceration rate,” said Velázquez.
The opposition coalition further noted that it was unlikely Hylton could comply with the letter and spirit of President Obama’s ethics policy (Executive Order No. 13490), related to reining in conflicts of interest among presidential appointees. The ethics policy restricts such appointees from taking official actions that directly and substantially affect immediate former clients and employers.
The coalition concluded that Hylton was “ill-suited to head the U.S. Marshals Service due to her close ties with the private prison industry in general and more specifically her acceptance of $112,500 in consulting fees from GEO Group. The public deserves to have someone appointed to this important position who does not have such conflicts.”
Hylton responded that she had consulted with the Office of Governmental Ethics to address any conflicts of interest. According to a White House official, “After review it was determined that Ms. Hylton did not need a waiver for her consulting client, the GEO Group, as she could easily be recused from participating in particular matters in which that client was a party.”
Ken Kopczynski, director of the Private Corrections Working Group, which opposes prison privatization, disagreed.
“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 said. “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.”
Hylton’s nomination was evidently fast-tracked, as she was scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 17, 2010 – just a week after the opposition campaign was announced on November 9. She was voted out of the Committee on December 1 and her nomination went to the full Senate, which confirmed her three weeks later.
“The opposition coalition is disappointed, of course, that the Obama administration nominated Hylton despite her obvious conflicts of interest involving the private prison industry, which she will be overseeing as director of the U.S. Marshals and in contradiction to the president’s own ethics guidelines,” said Friedmann. “We continue to hope for change, but see only the same revolving door and conflicts of interest between public officials and private industry that benefits from federal contracts under the Obama administration.”
Hylton, who received the support of the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, replaces John F. Clark, a Bush appointee, as director of the U.S. Marshals Service.
Hylton could not be reached for comment.
Sources: Washington Times, www.mainjustice.org, http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com, Coalition Against Stacia Hylton’s Nomination
This article originally appeared in Prison Legal News, February, 2011: www.prisonlegalnews.org