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The Announcement

The Western Region Detention Facility (WRDF) in San Diego, operated by the private GEO Group, announced on September 21, 2021 that it had secured a six-month extension with the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) to house detainees for the United States Marshals Service, just over a week before the federal government contract was set to expire (USMS).

President-elect Joe Biden Jr. (D) signed an executive order prohibiting the Department of Justice from renewing contracts with private prison operators beyond January 20, 2021, according to the Washington Post. Democratic and Republican leaders are challenging the ruling in court in other states, most notably California, where it is currently on appeal. Additional efforts were made to keep the company operating by the WRDF union, which represents approximately 300 of the company’s employees.

In the country, just one private jail, the WRDF, is represented by labor unions. The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) have joined forces to put pressure on the Biden Administration to prolong the USMS contract in the country.

According to Erwin, who spoke at a news conference in August 2021, “these workers provide an invaluable public service to the community.” Because San Diego has one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates (7 percent), these jobs are critical to the livelihoods of these 300 families and the overall economy of the region.

Executive Order 14006

Executive Order 14006 should not apply to the San Diego prison, according to the union’s president, because it does not serve the same purpose as a jail that holds people convicted of crimes for extended periods of time. As Erwin has also pointed out, the order has not always been followed through on. Take, for example, the Biden Administration’s decision to allow the Northeast Ohio Correction Center, which is used by the United States Marine Corps, to remain open for the whole month of May.

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USMS Has no Authority to Operate Detention Facilities

Given that the USMS “does not have the statutory authority to own or operate detention facilities,” Erwin explained that his organization’s only alternative option is to enter into contracts with private operators in “areas where neither federal nor state options are available.” The USMS was able to keep its doors open more than 200 years before private, for-profit prison corporations came into existence.

Before the order was overturned, members of Congress, including Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.), Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), expressed their concerns about the order’s impact on the United States Maritime Service.

When they wrote to the President in April 2021, they referred to an internal agency assessment from February 10, 2021, which said that “losing the use of these private detention facilities would be detrimental to USMS districts that currently rely on private detention facilities.”

Additionally, according to the report, the US Marshals Service strives to house its 52,000 detainees close to courthouses in order to “accommodate defendants’ needs for access to their legal counsel and personal support system, such as family,” and warns that if the Marshals Service is forced to “house prisoners farther away from the courthouses, additional transportation resources will be required.”

U.s. Marshals Service - Employees UsmsUSMS has Nothing to Say

A spokesperson for the United States Marshals Service declined to comment on the report, but stated that the agency is “committed to implementing the president’s executive order,” and that it is “carefully examining its existing contracts with these facilities, mindful that any plans should avoid unnecessarily disrupting access to counsel, court appearances, and family support”

In the meantime, a proposal to pursue an intergovernmental contract with the United States Marine Corps to house its captives was on the agenda for the city council of MacFarland, California, in August 2021, which is 160 miles away from WRDF in the rural Kern County. A contract with GEO Group would then be signed between the city and the company, which would be responsible for keeping the USMS in technical conformity with Vice President Biden’s intentions.

Immediately following this announcement, the state section of the American Civil Liberties Union wrote to President Obama to voice its unhappiness with the proposal, which stated in part:

“Rather than allowing GEO to use the next six months to solidify the Executive Order’s status as a dead letter, the Administration should take advantage of this opportunity to completely phase out GEO’s involvement at WRDF,” said the White House.

If USMS goes forward with its solution, it may be too little, too late to prevent it from repeating the mistake in the future, experts say. CoreCivic, a competitor of GEO Group, has been selected to administer the detention center in Ohio that was granted a reprieve by the United States Marshals Service. The agency has entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the county of Mahoning to house its detainees. Aside from that, where does Mahoning County intend to house the inmates?

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Naturally, this will take place in a CoreCivic-run facility.

Biden’s executive order, which only pertained to the Department of Justice (DOJ), covered the facilities used by the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBP), which are both private prison companies. The report did not include ICE detention centers, which are privately administered by the Department of Homeland Security and house an average of more than 22,000 convicts between October 2021 and January 2022. As reported on page 32 of the PLN report, protestors protesting these detention facilities are well-versed in the nefarious operations of the private companies that operate them.

Sources: CNN, Government Executive, San Diego Union Tribune