Denver City Council approves halfway house extensions

DENVER — The Denver City Council voted unanimously Monday night for temporary extensions of contracts with two companies operating halfway houses in the city.

On Aug 5., City Council voted 8-4 to end contracts with Community Education Centers, Inc. (a subsidiary of the GEO Group) and CoreCivic. Both companies run immigration detention centers around the country.

Following the termination of the contracts, some halfway house residents expressed concerns they could be re-imprisoned. While the city said that would not happen, it did not have a clear plan in place for re-housing the residents.

Following Monday night’s vote, CoreCivic’s contract will be extended for one year. GEO’s will be extended until the end of 2019.

Council president Jolon Clark said before the final vote that the conversations now set the council on a new path in addressing corrections.

In more than an hour-and-a-half of discussions, the council directed questions to Greg Mauro, Denver’s director of community corrections, who stressed that canceling the contracts would elicit “complete chaos” in the criminal legal system.

Councilperson Candi CdeBaca of District 9, who led the charge to cancel the contracts, focused on her visits to some of the facilities, where she said — and  a CoreCivic representative confirmed — that dozens of men must shower in a single room.

She also said she’s received correspondence from some of the residents, who allege forced labor maintaining the facilities in which they live. Mauro said the labor she mentioned equates to “chores” that foster character-building for this transitional population. He said regulations prohibit residential labor from adding value to the property.

The council also heard from Lisa Calderón — the former mayoral candidate that’s now CdeBaca’s chief of staff — who’s worked in transitional housing and earned a doctorate studying the issue.

She said there’s no dispute that transitional programs work, but the current model in Denver is based on “an old standard.” She pointed out that halfway houses must be housed in industrial “warehouse” districts.

People want transitional services, she said: “the question is: what kind of transitional services are effective?”

The council also heard from two current GEO transitional-housing residents who said the facilities helped them, often triggering loud applause from other residents and their supporters, who packed the council auditorium.

GEO Group spokesman Rich Coolidge sent the following statement to FOX31 and Channel 2 Monday evening:

“Tonight, residents from Tooley Hall and Williams Street finally had a chance to speak to Denver City Council. Unfortunately, many others were not allowed to share their stories and successes with the same city council members who criticized those facilities blindly. Fortunately, this contract extension will help provide certainty to our residents and their families and we welcome the city’s support. We hope these same elected officials give our residents and employees a voice in the future.”

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