Two years after Denver chose to end its relationships with a pair of private prison operators for community corrections services, the Department of Safety’s Division of Community Corrections is asking City Council to approve another two-year contract with one of the operators while Denver tries to fill the service gaps ending the relationship will create.
On Wednesday the Denver City Council’s Safety, Housing, Education and Homelessness Committee gave its approval to send a $5 million, two-year contract with private prison and halfway house operator CoreCivic to the full council.
Halfway houses, also known as community corrections and re-entry services, are intended to provide a structured living environment and needed treatment services as a condition of a court-imposed sentence or to help people re-integrate with society after leaving prison.
The city’s current contract with CoreCivic ends in June. But there is not yet a solution to fully replace the beds to keep Denver’s current capacity steady and meet anticipated future demands. The new contract would run through June 2023.
In December, the safety committee approved two contracts worth a combined $10 million for halfway house operations with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center -- Addiction Research and Treatment Services and RRK Enterprises Inc., doing business as Independence House.
The contracts replace some of the community corrections services lost when City Council ended halfway house contracts with CoreCivic and GEO Group, both private prison operators, in the summer of 2019. The contracts with ARTS and Independence House were intended to make 231 community corrections spots available, according to a presentation to the safety committee in December.
But in Wednesday morning’s presentation, Division of Community Corrections Director Greg Mauro said Independence House has since consolidated its facilities on Pecos and Fillmore Streets into one. He said the consolidation reduced Denver’s total community corrections spots by 40, and also reduced availability of specialized residential dual-diagnosis treatment for mental health issues and substance use.
Mauro said while Denver is getting by right now with its current capacity of about 450 beds, partly because of population reduction efforts to comply with COVID-19 public health orders for community corrections and other congregate care settings, Denver’s need for more residential spots will soon increase.
Denver purchased Tooley Hall from GEO Group in 2019 and plans to eventually re-launch services for women after finishing renovations at the facility, Mauro said. However, a request for proposal issued last fall to find a community-based service provider did not result in a contract being awarded.
Mauro said Denver is in negotiations for the possibility of purchasing another property from CoreCivic for city-operated men’s halfway house services, with a 2023 projected start date.
Mauro explained filling the gaps in needs for community corrections spots is not as simple as replacing one bed lost from the end of the CoreCivic contract with a bed from another service provider because different providers specialize in particular types of treatment, such as ARTS’ specialization in therapeutic community intervention for substance use.
“Bed capacity speaks about our overall system capacity, but a bed is not necessarily interchangeable with another bed or another service type,” he said. “That's where the capacity and specialization of services have to kind of work together as we develop this new model.”
District 9 Councilmember Candi CdeBaca, who led the original effort to end the city’s relationships with CoreCivic and GEO Group, expressed frustration with the request for a continued relationship with CoreCivic. She also said she’s unhappy with considering an extended contract while simultaneously negotiating to buy a property from the company.
“I just want to express the frustration that this is the same exact conversation we had two years ago,” she said. “And I expect we'll be having it again every two years.”
Mauro said Denver has the ability to end the contract with CoreCivic anytime before June 2023 with 30 days’ notice, adding he believes the city is better off having two years to plan for the wind down of its relationship with CoreCivic rather than extending the contract for only one year, for example. He tried to assuage CdeBaca’s concerns by pointing out the city has reduced the number of halfway house facilities operated by GEO Group and CoreCivic by two-thirds since 2019.
“I don't say that to celebrate it,” Mauro said. “I say that to underscore there's progress being made, and we will get to the desired state. It's just going to take time.”