Rattling Cages

Private prison contracts sure aren’t what they used to be. Or maybe they never were all that ethical to begin with.

Either way, Rep. Buffie McFadyen isn’t amused

At a press conference yesterday, the Pueblo Democrat called on the Department of Corrections (DOC) to rescind a state contract obtained through less than scrupulous methods.It goes like this: in November a state audit found that Nolin Renfrow, a former head of prisons, had helped a private company called the Geo Group win a multi-million dollar bid for the construction of a new prison in Ault, Colorado. All this was before he had officially retired from his government position.

Now the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is examining Renfrow, but the contract remains intact. This fact prompted McFadyen to send a letter to Ari Zavaras, the new executive director for the DOC, discussing the Ault agreement.

“I’m sure he will take the letter that I wrote very seriously,” says McFadyen. “I can’t speak for him as to what he would do, but I’m sure that we’ll have to have legal discussions with the Governor’s office as well.”

Joining the lawmaker at a press conference was the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, an organization which has mounted an impressive legislative strategy against the perils of the private prison industry, in favor of programs that offer treatment and incarceration alternatives.

Meanwhile, the Corrections Corporation of America, which proudly boasts of being the “nation’s largest provider of jail, detention and corrections services to governmental agencies,” gave a presentation before the House Judiciary Committee today. 

“I don’t think it’s unusual to have the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the prisons, to call in and have questions about the private prison system,” McFadyen explains. “To my knowledge, those who oppose private prisons will also be given time to speak as well.”

Although Corrections Corporation isn’t involved in the latest contractual controversy, they might not be finding business any easier under a more attentive government monocle, brought on by the recent state audit.

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@www.coloradoindependent.com.

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