Denver city officials and two private prison companies have come to a verbal agreement to keep six community corrections facilities open in the short term after the City Council voted Monday to end the companies’ contracts.
The city and the companies, CoreCivic and GEO Group, reached the agreement to continue services for the more than 500 people living in the six facilities affected by the council decision, said Kelli Christensen, Denver Department of Public Safety spokeswoman. If the companies had decided to close their halfway houses, the current residents likely would have returned to jail or prison.
“Right now, GEO Group and CoreCivic are operating in good faith in the hopes that the city will work this out,” Christensen said.
Christensen said the conversations about keeping the halfway houses open have been ongoing but could not say when the verbal agreement was reached.
The city approached the companies to discuss how to keep them operating, said Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for CoreCivic. The companies have been operating without a contract since July 1 and decided to continue to do so — for now. There is no end date to the verbal contract, she said.
“We think it’s important to remain committed to the residents,” Gilchrist said.
The affected facilities are not accepting new clients. More than 200 incarcerated people have been approved to transition to the halfway houses but are waiting for a bed in Denver, Christensen said.
The striking decision by council Monday put 517 of Denver’s 748 community corrections beds in limbo.
“GEO continues to honor the terms of our now expired agreement to safeguard our employees and residents but we’re anxious to identify a path forward considering the city council’s reckless decision that significantly impacts this vulnerable population,” GEO Group said in a statement provided to The Denver Post.
Mayor Michael Hancock called Council’s decision “regrettable” and “short-sighted” in an interview Wednesday with The Denver Post. It’s impossible to build a new community corrections facility in Denver due to city zoning rules.
“There are no alternatives in the marketplace,” he said.
It’s also important that people differentiate between the companies’ community corrections programs and their detention centers such as GEO’s immigration facility in Aurora, he said. The Aurora detention center has drawn criticism for poor health services and has been the site of multiple protests as debates over U.S. immigration policy roil the country.
“On this one, I believe (council) missed the mark,” Hancock said.
The halfway houses are used as an alternative to prison for people convicted of felonies. Some offenders are sentenced to community corrections instead of prison, while others spend time at the houses after prison but before transitioning to parole. While at the halfway houses, offenders are expected to hold jobs and begin to transition back into society.