Denver City Council votes against multi-million dollar community corrections contracts

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DENVER — After several hours of public testimony and discussion, the Denver City Council voted Monday night against two multi-million dollar contracts with companies that provide the city's community corrections services.

Community Corrections works with people coming out of prison or chosen to be sent somewhere other than prison, said Greg Mauro, director of the Division of Community Corrections, in a recording of the council meeting.

If the contracts did not move forward, Mauro said up to 517 people being monitored in the community will have to go back to prison or jail, and the city's ability to provide residential treatment would be hindered.

One contract would have been with Community Education Centers, Inc. (a subsidiary of the GEO Group) for $3,894,401.16 for one year, and with CoreCivic for $6,680,446.70.

According to a Denver City Council tweet, the contracts were defeated 8-4.

A group of women who live in the Williams Street Center community corrections facility is worried they might go back to prison or jail after the City Council's vote. Their facility is run by one of the GEO Group.

“I just really hope they’re able to come up with a solution,” said resident Barbara Naranjo.

Naranjo said she previously served some prison time for a drug charge and was allowed to finish her sentence under less-restrictive circumstances at Williams Street Center.

City Councilwoman Candi Cdebaca said both companies are affiliated with immigration detention centers around the country, and she is concerned how they treat detainees in those facilities.

“(The vote was) surreal. We took an unprecedented stance against corporations committing human rights violations,” Cdebaca told FOX31.

Both companies said they were disappointed with the vote.

“These best-in-class treatment facilities in Denver have nothing to do with national immigration policies,” said Monica Hook, who spoke on behalf of Geo Care Strategic Marketing. “Last night, the Denver City Council put a radical partisan political agenda over the needs of hundreds of residents looking to rehabilitate and return to the community,” she said.

A spokesperson for CoreCivic echoed the concerns.

“We have a 35-year track record of working with both Democrat and Republican administrations to help solve the very types of crises we are now seeing on our southern border,” said Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for CoreCivic.

April Cotton said she served 10 years in prison or organized crime but found support serving the end of her sentence in the Williams Street Center.

“What did I do to have to go back? That would be the question I would be sitting in prison asking myself,” she said.

Mayor Michael Hancock shared the following statement:

We understand City Council’s concerns around the holders of these contracts, and share the much broader national demand for better treatment and conditions for those in federal custody due to their immigration status. However, Denver’s current zoning presents no other viable alternatives for these community corrections facilities, and now as a result of council’s decision, more than 500 individuals in need of a second chance are at risk of being placed back in prison, hindering their rehabilitation and further burdening our jails and prisons. We are disappointed that council did not renew these contracts while other alternatives were explored.

Cdebaca said the city should transform the current community corrections system.

“We’re positioned well to make decisions that are transformational and that lead us to better outcomes. We’ve raised the bar and we’ve stood in solidarity, truly, with immigrant families locally and nationally,” she said.

Cdebaca said she would consider the possibility of renegotiating with the two companies if there is greater accountability and a shorter term for the contract.

The GEO Group's full statement from Hook:

“Last night, the Denver City Council put a radical partisan political agenda over the needs of hundreds of Denver residents looking to rehabilitate and return to the community. Denver’s elected leaders took a leap backwards and voted to wipe away 30 years of successful reentry programming in the city including proven, evidence-based treatment for at-risk individuals. Our reentry programs are designed to engage and stabilize individuals while promoting successful reintegration in a safe and supportive environment. We agree with Councilman Chris Herndon who said, ‘There are human beings’ lives at stake if we choose to vote down this contract.’ Yet council walked away from their residents with no plan B or safety net for these vulnerable individuals and their families. These residents will now be sent back to jail or prison with no programming – how does that solve the problem?

These best in class treatment facilities in Denver have nothing to do with national immigration policies, yet politically-motivated activists and council members chose to intentionally share false information about our parent company’s more than 30-year record as a government service provider and overlooked the needs of Denver residents whose voice is so often ignored – those trying to successfully re-integrate into the community. Contrary to the deliberate mischaracterizations, our parent company’s ICE processing centers are not overcrowded, have never housed unaccompanied minors, and provide the safest and most humane residential care possible.”

CoreCivic's full statement from Gilchrist:

The most disappointing aspect of this deeply misguided decision is how much it hurts vulnerable people and the safety of this community. As a result of political recklessness, Denver now faces a dire situation.

  • More than 1,200 people* received services from one of our Denver community facilities in the past year alone. Now, individuals like this won’t have the job readiness, substance use disorder counseling or life skills programming they need to help them be successful.
  • 122 clients* who currently have been approved to enter one of our community facilities in the Denver area will now likely to stay in prison.
  • The courts will lose the option of sentencing people to community corrections rather than prison or jail time – a harsher punishment.
  • Many of our clients do not have home plans. Without access to our facility, they will likely be homeless.
  • We have the only specialized, intensive residential substance use disorder treatment program in the city of Denver, which will be eliminated to the detriment of those relying on it to break the cycle of addiction.
  • We also have the only sex offender monitoring program offered through a community corrections center in the city of Denver.
  • Nearly 100 reentry professionals* with decades of experience helping people successfully return to this community are facing the prospect of job loss.

These politicians have failed their community, which will be less safe and healthy, and those in its criminal justice system, who will have much less support to get their lives back on track.

We’re proud of our longstanding track record of delivering meaningful reentry programs in partnership with the Colorado Department of Corrections and the city and county of Denver. Our four residential reentry centers are well established in the area, having served individuals nearing release in Denver for almost two decades.

CoreCivic operates no immigration facilities in Colorado. We have a 35-year track record of working with both Democrat and Republican administrations to help solve the very types of crises we are now seeing on our southern border.

*Numbers for CoreCivic facilities only

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Lori Jane Gliha contributed to this report.

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