Ted S. Warren / AP file photo

Marshals Service Detention Facility to Remain Temporarily Open After Union Pressure

Union is working for a permanent extension to save 300 jobs. 

A private California detention center used by the U.S. Marshals Service will temporarily remain open, after pressure from a union and others to keep it open and save 300 jobs 

The National Federation of Federal Employees, along with the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, an affiliate of AFL-CIO, had called on the Biden administration to keep open the Western Region Detention Facility in downtown San Diego. It is operated under a U.S. Marshals Service contract with GEO Group that was set to expire on September 30. However, on Tuesday, the National Federation of Federal Employees announced that GEO Group and the U.S. Marshals Service reached an agreement to extend the contract for six-months. The Marshals Service is a federal law enforcement agency within the Justice Department responsible for transporting federal prisoners, among other duties.

“The contract extension is a wonderful outcome for the dedicated workers at the [facility] and the greater San Diego community,” said Randy Erwin, national president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, in a press release on Tuesday. “Detainees will continue to receive high quality services and access to their family, friends and legal representation, which would have been jeopardized if the [facility] had been closed.” Also, employees will be able “to keep their good union jobs, healthcare and security during the ongoing COVID pandemic.” The union said this was a joint effort with support from the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego Sheriff's Department and others.

Biden signed an executive order on January 27 saying, “the attorney general shall not renew Department of Justice contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities, as consistent with applicable law.” However, Erwin and others argued it does not necessarily apply to contracts held by the U.S. Marshals Service. 

The union wasn’t given an explanation as to why the contract was extended, but “I think this represents another data point in the executive order not applying to U.S. Marshals Service contracts,” Erwin told Government Executive. “It suggests that the U.S. Marshal Service does, in fact, need the capacity that private providers make possible.” 

However, “there is still work to do in our efforts to keep the [Western Region Detention Facility] in operation after the contract extension expires,” Erwin added in a press release. “NFFE is continuing to investigate avenues to keep the [facility] open for a longer period of time.”

In order to comply with Biden’s executive order, “GEO has proposed various alternative contracting structures to the USMS that would allow the Western Region Detention Facility to remain in operation in compliance with the executive order, beyond the six-month contract extension,” said GEO Group in a statement on Tuesday. 

“It may take a directive by the attorney general, but opportunities exist for greater taxpayer value by reengineering federal inmate detention through collaborative measures between the U.S. Marshals Service and [the Federal Bureau of Prisons],” Jason Wojdylo, vice president for the Federal Managers Association’s law enforcement operations chapter, told Government Executive. “Otherwise, it raises questions about the true meaning and spirit of the executive order and whether or not the administration is serious about fulfilling its pledge to ‘reduce profit-based reliance on privately operated criminal detention facilities.’ ”

The facility is in the district of Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., who sent a letter to Biden, obtained by Government Executive, saying that while he fully supports the goals of the January executive order, he doesn’t believe “applying [it] to U.S. Marshals’ facilities will serve to remedy the problems we face within our criminal justice system.” He also had worries about the implications of closing the San Diego facility. 

The U.S. Marshals Service did not respond for comment by the time of this article’s publication.