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A pedestrian walks past the former GEO Group Williams Street Center, a community corrections facility, at 1763 N Williams Street in Denver on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020.

Despite the Denver City Council’s passage Monday of the group living text amendment, and its accompanying outcry about the expansion of community corrections facilities beyond the current industrial areas, the action will likely not have an immediate effect on the need for hundreds of beds for incarcerated individuals.

In August 2019, the council voted to end contracts with CoreCivic and GEO Group, two private prison operators who also managed a half dozen community corrections facilities in Denver. Community corrections is Colorado’s term for halfway houses, where people in the justice system take up supervised residency instead of prison or prior to release.

While Denver forecasts a demand of approximately 550 beds, there will be an up to 250-bed deficit when the last contract expires in June.

The group living vote was “was definitely a step forward for a couple of different reasons,” said Greg Mauro, the director of Denver’s Division of Community Corrections. “Up until that amendment, what we were facing is what I would almost define as landlocked. We had limited sites where community corrections could occur, essentially isolated to 11 sites where the use had occurred forever.”

The recent amendment to the zoning code most notably raised the maximum number of unrelated adults who could live in a single-family home to five, but also reformed the criteria for congregate and residential care facilities. Such facilities will be allowed based on the number of residents they serve, rather than their type, and community corrections sites are now eligible to locate in up to 19,000 acres of Denver.

The city had to scale back the available acreage for halfway houses after intense objections.

“I haven’t chosen to break the law – why should someone who did, get to choose to live next to me before they’ve completed their sentence? How dare you put my biggest financial investment at risk,” wrote one resident who commented to the city.

What drives the demand for community corrections beds, Mauro said, is the number of people exiting the prison system. Right now, approximately 350 beds are occupied, based on the need to reduce capacity during the pandemic.

While Mauro added he would “never say never,” he explained that the group living amendment was a long-term solution that would allow additional providers to come into the community corrections system, and allow providers to modify their facilities to keep up with demand. But it was not something designed to deliver relief by June.

“I suppose there can always be an exploration of a continued extension, but right now the contract with CoreCivic expires in June,” he said. Last month, the city approved contracts with the University of Colorado and Independence House for operation of 250 beds, in addition to city-owned property.

In December, Mauro told the council's Safety, Housing, Education & Homeless Committee that the city was able to transfer people out of GEO Group's facilities into other programs around the state without reincarcerating any of them. The community corrections program going forward, he explained, would provide different intensity levels of service, varying the length of stay, nature of services and size of the residence.

"I don't want anyone to confuse these interventions," he cautioned, "with the group living project. This is not a one-to-one match."

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