Critics: U.S. Marshals Nominee Too Cozy With Private Prison Interests

Human rights groups and criminal justice organizations are criticizing President Barack Obama’s nomination of Stacia A. Hylton for director of the U.S. Marshals Service because of her ties to the for-profit prison industry.

Hylton was a 29-year career employee of the Justice Department until she left her post earlier this year and accepted $112,500 in consulting fees from the GEO Group, a for-profit prison industry group. Hylton awarded contracts worth up to $88 million to the GEO Group during her nearly six years as DOJ’s Federal Detention Trustee, according to a press release. The GEO Group is the second largest operator of for-profit prisons in the United States.

“Sounds like the fox watching the henhouse to me,” Ken Kopczynski, the director of the nonprofit watchdog group Private Corrections Working Group, told TPMmuckraker.“This is a prime example of the revolving door between the public and for-profit private sectors,” said Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News.

Among some issues causing concern for human rights groups is the fact that, as a Federal Detention Trustee, Hylton objected to a recommendation from the Justice Department Office of Inspector General that called for limiting the amount of profit that a state or local jail — some of which are owned and/or operated by for-profit companies — can earn for housing federal prisoners.

GEO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer George Zoley admitted recently that “the primary driver for growth continues to be the incarceration of criminal aliens” in the area of federal contracts, the Washington Times reported.

The Washington Times reported last month on Hylton’s contract with the GEO Group and the possible conflicts of interest. She received $112,500 in income from her own private company through “consulting services for detention matters, federal relations and acquisitions and mergers” from March through July of 2010, the newspaper said.

“The U.S. Marshals preside over one of the nation’s largest privatized federal detention systems,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “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.”

Hylton told the Senate Judiciary Committee in a questionnaire that an ethics agreement with the government would resolve any potential conflicts of interest.

“In connection with the nomination process, I have consulted with the Office of Government Ethics and the Department of Justice’s designated agency ethics official to identify any potential conflicts of interest,” she wrote.

Hylton has a hearing scheduled before the Senate Judiciary Committee next week. She would replace current U.S. Marshals Director John Clark, who has served in that role since 2006. It wasn’t originally clear until Hylton’s nomination that Obama would replace Clark, who was a long-time career U.S. Marshals employee who worked with the administration on plans to handle the closing of Guantanamo Bay and trial of those behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

The U.S. Marshals Service said it would be inappropriate for them to comment during the nomination process and referred questions to the White House. A spokesman there did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Current U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein for the District of Maryland, listed as a reference by Hylton on the nomination documents forwarded to the committee, said through a spokeswoman that Justice Department policy would not allow him to comment on pending nominations.

The GEO Group, which only answers questions submitted via e-mail, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Hylton’s work on their behalf.

Here is Hylton’s bio, which mentions her work as a consultant but not the private prison company she consulted for, as provided by the White House:

Stacia A. Hylton, Nominee for Director, United States Marshals Service
Stacia A. Hylton currently operates her own consulting company, Hylton Kirk & Associates, after having served in federal law enforcement within the Department of Justice for 29 years. Previously, she served as the Federal Detention Trustee from 2004-2010. Prior to that, she served in a number of leadership positions within the U.S. Marshals Service from 1980-2004, including Acting Deputy Director, Assistant Director Prisoner Operations, Chief Deputy in the District of South Carolina, and Chief of Judicial Security Programs. She is a recipient of the Attorney General’s Edmund J. Randolph Award and the Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Service. Ms. Hylton attended Northeastern University where she earned her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Criminal Justice in 1983.

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