Sunday, December 26, 2010

Going Private

Guess who was confirmed by the Senate this week as the new head of the U.S. Marshalls Service?

That would be Stacia Hylton. Last month Talking Points Memo reported

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."

Of course that's a conflict of interest. But the larger issue is privatization of federal prisons, especially for detaining illegal immigrants. And there are a lot of illegal immigrants detained, facing new charges or otherwise, in federal prisons. The Obama administration has detained and deported more "criminal aliens"- individuals here illegally who have committed other serious offenses- than has the Bush Administration. One hopes: that is because enforcement of borders is a priority rather than because high ranking officials like Hylton can go from government to industry to government, padding the bottom line of the private prison industry. The U.S.A., after all, is not Arizona.

But one cannot be sure. Consider federal education policy under the current president, who wears the uniform of a Democrat. President Obama and education secretary Arne Duncan, who made his name in Chicago by closing public schools and opening charter schools, are enamored of No Child Left Behind, despite evidence that it is a failure. Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under Bush 41 and member of National Assessment Governing Board under President Clinton, explains

And the institutionalized fraud is that No Child Left Behind has mandated that every child is going to be proficient by the year 2014. Except they’re not, because no state and no nation has ever had 100 percent of the children proficient. Kids have all kinds of problems. And whether it’s poverty or a million things, there’s no such thing as 100 percent proficiency.

But every year we get closer to 2014, the bar goes up, and the states are told, “If you don’t reach that bar, you’re going to be punished. Schools will be closed. They’ll be turned into charter schools.” That’s part of the federal mandate, is that schools will be privatized if they can’t meet that impossible goal.

Replacing public prisons with private prisons. Replacing public schools with private schools (and in the case of charter schools, paid for by the public). Replacing jobs with decent pay and benefits with jobs with neither. Remarkably, organized labor, presumably part of that "professional left" which so bothers the White House, generally has stayed fairly loyal to this president, even while its jobs go to union-free companies, South Korea, and elsewhere as the middle class continues its descent, this time in a Democratic Administration.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right about Stacia Hylton and you're right about Obama, of course.

He originally picked Bill Richardson for H&HS Secretary. Bill has long been in the pocket of the for-profit prison industry.

Hylton may be as big a mistake, but she got confirmed by Democrats afraid to upset "their" President and Republicans afraid to upset their contributors.

Only Al Franken dared to ask her a question when she appeared before the Judiciary committee. Only the Washington Times, of all publications, thought the issue newsworthy.

She was confirmed by voice vote in Committee and on the Senate Floor.

As the Trustee of the Office of the Federal Detention Trustee, she took even better care of the Corrections Corporation of America than she took care of GEO Group, giving CCA a five-year, $137 million renewable contract where none was needed at all.

Obama has put still another fox in the henhouse, as Ken Kopczynski observed in the TPM Muckraker article.

And Eric Holder might be the biggest mistake of all.

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