Denver city councilwoman Candi CdeBaca was sworn in just last month. The new councilwoman is a vigorous opponent of renewing the city’s contracts with two of the largest players in the private prison field, CoreCivic and GEO Group. She said the city should not invest in organizations that are “perpetuating harm.”
When a vote about renewing the contracts, worth $10.6 million, came up before the governing body on August 5, she assumed she would cast the sole vote against renewing the contracts –but she was wrong. Six other council members joined her, and in an unexpected, stunning vote, the contracts were not renewed. Now the question is, what happens next, as the contracts have already expired?
Six Halfway Houses
The two private prison companies run a total of six halfway houses in Denver, but it was their poor reputation on the national stage that led the council to vote against contract renewal. CoreCivic and GEO Group hold the majority of contracts for the operation of detention facilities for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). GEO Group operates the facility in nearby Aurora.
One councilwoman said, “I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s OK with the ICE detention center in Aurora or anywhere else.” Another councilman referred to the companies as running “concentration camps” and putting kids in cages.
One woman with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) status said at the meeting she was concerned her family could end up at one of the private prison detention centers. According to the federal Homeland Security Department, detainees in GEO's Aurora facility were not permitted visits from family and friends, even though the room was available to accommodate them.
An American Civil Liberties Union (“ACLU”) of Colorado representative told the council it was time to “quit feeding the beast of for-profit” in the criminal justice system. However, Denver’s community corrections director said there was no area in the city zoned for additional halfway house sites.
Five Hundred People Affected
The non-renewal affects approximately 500 people currently in halfway houses. If these halfway houses – owned by the private prisons – are closed, the Colorado Department of Corrections (“DOC”) must either put these individuals back in prison or immediately grant parole. Another 200 people are scheduled for release in the near future and now have no halfway houses for their needs.
A Moral Choice
The council members casting a “no” vote for renewal mentioned making a moral choice in their decision. Even those who voted for renewal did not seem enthusiastic about CoreCivic and GEO Group, but said they were concerned about the fate of those now in halfway houses. As one member said, “I care about those 500. What the hell are we going to do?”
The council per se does not make the determination regarding whether those affected remain detained or are released. That is up to the DOC, the state parole board and the mayor’s office, who have their work cut out for them in the next few weeks.
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