Former DOC Official Also Helped Break Up Strike

Nolin Renfrow, a former Department Of Corrections (DOC) official and subject of a state audit is under scrutiny for helping a private corrections business obtain a 14 million-per-year contract for a proposed prison in Ault, Colorado.

It has also been discovered, that while serving as a director of prisons, Renfrow took part in breaking up a prisoner’s work strike in 2003.According to an article written by Ann Imse for the Rocky Mountain News, a recent state audit discovered that a prisons offical may have violated the law:

The audit does not name the official, but the audit was aimed at Nolin Renfrow, former state prisons director. And the document describes work he openly undertook for the Geo Group.

Renfrow helped Geo win a $14 million-per-year deal to house 1,500 inmates in a private prison it proposed building in Ault. Renfrow helped Geo write its bid and spoke with Ault officials on Geo’s behalf, said officials and Renfrow last spring.

The audit said the official may have violated two state laws. One prohibits state employees from providing paid assistance to anyone to win state contracts or economic benefits.

The other prohibits activities that constitute a conflict of interest with their duties as state employees.

The DOC is starting an investigation according to the article, but there are also troubles with what Renfrow has previously said:

When the audit began in June, Renfrow told a reporter he had run operations for existing prisons and that he had no role in writing the state’s bid request that he later helped Geo win.

He also said then that the state attorney general’s office had ruled that his work on the deal was not a conflict of interest.

However, the audit found no evidence that he requested or received the required state approval for his outside work.

In June, Rep. Buffie McFadyen (D-Pueblo) raised questions over Renfrow’s role in the bid process, by sending a letter to the Legislative Audit Committee:

“It is reasonable to assume Geo may have had, or has, what could be considered proprietary information. At the very least, Renfrow may have given his client, Geo, an unfair bidding advantage,” McFadyen wrote in her letter.

But Renfrow denied having any role in the bid request, saying he ran operations for existing prisons. He said the bid was handled by DOC’s purchasing section.

“I saw the (bid document) the same day everyone else did. I had to sign in and buy a copy of it.”

Renfrow also said his new work – as a prison consultant – was cleared by the attorney general’s office. “They said it’s not a conflict of interest.”

Now, news archives also show that Renfrow participated in breaking up a prisoner’s work strike in 2003 when daily pay for their jobs was cut from $2 a day to 60 cents, due to budget cuts.

From a Denver Post article in July of 2003 [1]:

Officials played a video to inmates explaining upcoming pay cuts for inmate workers, informants identified strike ring leaders, and officials quickly removed the leaders from the prison, said Nolin Renfrow, director of prisons.

The strike began July 1, the first day of new pay rates for prison workers. The inmates objected to their pay – which they use to buy soap and other hygiene items – dropping from between 40 cents and $2 daily to 60 cents a day.

“A lot of inmates realized there probably isn’t a lot of public sympathy for pay cuts if the staff was getting laid off too,” Renfrow said.

Informants told prison officials that the biggest pocket of strike support was at Sterling, Renfrow said.

Starting at 3 a.m. July 1, three shifts of prison cooks at Sterling refused to go to work for the lower rates. Officials put about 1,100 maximum- and medium-security prisoners in lockdown.

Prisoners got cold meals, were kept in their cells and at first didn’t get to shower.

Officials identified 16 strike leaders and moved them to Colorado State Prison, a maximum-security prison in Ca

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About the Author

Erin Rosa

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature.

Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state.

Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters.

She can be reached at erosa@coloradoindependent.com.

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