Denver “optimistic” halfway house residents won’t be returned to jail, prison

City could seek new, short-term contracts with providers GEO Group and CoreCivic. It's still unclear what would happen after those expire.

Troy Riggs, director of Denver's Department of Public Safety, testifies on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, before the state's committee on prison population management. Riggs says he's optimistic that some 500-plus Denverites won't be sent back to jail or prison as a result of the City Council's decision to kill contracts with two private companies that run halfway houses in the city. (Photo by Alex Burness)
Troy Riggs, director of Denver's Department of Public Safety, testifies on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019, before the state's committee on prison population management. Riggs says he's optimistic that some 500-plus Denverites won't be sent back to jail or prison as a result of the City Council's decision to kill contracts with two private companies that run halfway houses in the city. (Photo by Alex Burness)

Denver officials say they are hopeful they can reach a near-term agreement to keep six privately run halfway houses open into 2020. 

As for what could come after that, they still don’t know.

In a shocker last week, the Denver City Council, citing moral grounds, voted to kill contracts with GEO Group and CoreCivic, the nation’s two largest private prison companies. These companies serve more than 500 people combined in halfway houses in Denver.

Denver’s community corrections director, Greg Mauro, was crystal clear in warning the council before its vote that canceling the contracts, which expired July 1, meant that those 500-plus “will be returned back to prison or jail.”

A week later, that scenario is still possible, but perhaps unlikely — hardly the sure thing Mauro said it was.

In fact, officials expect there’s a good chance the city will agree to continue contracting with GEO and CoreCivic in order to keep the six facilities open in the coming months. Even Candi CdeBaca, the District 9 councilwoman who led the effort to sever ties with these companies, said she’d support such a temporary continuation.

The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition has presented the framework for a potential transition plan. CdeBaca and others are already behind it. The plan, per the Coalition, includes:

  • “a 6 month “wind-down” contract with GEO that operates two community corrections facilities in Denver”
  • “a 12 month “wind-down” contract with CoreCivic that operates four community corrections facilities in Denver”
  • “a commitment from the Department of Public Safety, Office of Community Corrections to convene a diverse stakeholder group to engage in deeper planning”

The potential for such a deal is what gives Troy Riggs, director of the city’s Department of Public Safety, hope that hundreds of people transitioning back into society at halfway houses won’t be thrown back behind bars.

“We’re pretty optimistic we can get something for the short term,” Riggs said.

The problem, however, is there’s no plan in place to ensure Denver doesn’t find itself in the same quandary after a potential short-term extension expires. City zoning restricts the creation of any new community re-entry centers. Riggs said that’s one thing that would likely need to change ahead of any short-term contract lapsing next year.

While officials brainstorm, GEO and CoreCivic continue to keep their facilities open, even though their respective contracts with the city expired almost six weeks ago. The city intends to reimburse the companies by using some of the more than $18 million in funds already secured from the state Department of Public Safety. 

That money is appropriated annually from that department’s budget to the city, to be used for community corrections. More than half of it was slated to go to GEO and CoreCivic in the next year. 

But no one, including the two companies, has been able to state for sure that the city and the affected companies will continue to work together for any defined period of time. There’s no formal agreement, or even a “handshake agreement,” Riggs said.

“Is there anything that’s stopping these facilities from shuttering tomorrow?” asked state Rep. Leslie Herod, a Denver Democrat, on Monday during a meeting of the state’s committee on prison population management.

“In a short answer,” said Eric Williams, Riggs’s deputy director, “no.”

If negotiations fall through, and the city has more than 500 residents quickly displaced from re-entry centers, the DOC will have two options, director Dean Williams said: Work “full-tilt” to release as many people as possible through parole or send people back to prison — something Williams called an “unsavory alternative.”

Of the 500-plus halfway house residents now in limbo, some 60% are in DOC custody. The remainder were in many cases sentenced directly to halfway houses by the 2nd Judicial District (Denver County).

At the county level, officials have already suspended new placements into CoreCivic and GEO programs, though they have not requested the courts stop sentencing people to community re-entry centers. This means the waitlist will probably grow substantially the longer this dilemma remains unsolved, Riggs said.

“Even before this vote was taken, we did not have enough capacity,” he added. “I believe we have at least 200 on the waitlist as of today.”

Among the reasons the aftermath of the council vote is so chaotic is that no one expected the council to kill the contracts. Even CdeBaca thought none of her colleagues would join her. DOC Director Williams said he had no idea the contracts were at issue until the day before they came up for renewal. 

Riggs is one of many officials now lamenting the surprise element in this decision. Had city leaders started talking about this earlier, he said Monday, they might have avoided the present scramble. 

The city will have a chance to test his theory later this year: Denver contracts with BI, Inc. — a wholly-owned subsidiary of GEO — for ankle monitoring, and that contract expires in December. 

The council’s vote last week indicates that the BI contract is likely dead come December, which gives the city some four months to figure out its replacement plan moving forward.

15 COMMENTS

  1. has anyone asked if there are other objectionable contracts from the City of Denver? Here’s hoping city&county of Denver officials will have a bit of lead time before a substantial program is jeopardized or ended.

  2. Denver City Council has nothing better to do than virtue signal. They should be a check on our socialist Mayor, but no. They are right on board. They should counter the corruption….but no. They are right on board.

  3. Are there companies other than Geo and CoreCivic that run these programs that aren’t involved with the immigrant detention centers that the contracts could be transitioned to? Given the significant privatization of governmental functions that others would have developed this expertise.

  4. Just let them loose on the 16th st mall,along with the crazy illegal’s from the “Solitary confinement ” story. I live in Evergreen…

  5. GEO and CoreCivic had 30 years to get it right. That is, to treat human beings like human beings and not like objects to be poorly handled and deprived of their freedom through a series of punishments so that they could retain “these objects”–solely for their financial advantage. Most of GEO and CoreCivic’s victims return to society. They will never magically become compassionate human beings if manhandled poorly and without respect as they were by these 2 corporate companies. My heart went out to these human beings for years and it soared to the heavens when I heard about this remarkable moral vote by City Council. CoreCivic and GEO must teach compassion to their employees and we must stop their harmful greedy ways. I am a fan of Invisible Handcuffs and it should be read by all that think greedy corporations can be humane, Can they when their goal is to make money–the all mighty buck?

    • what are you actually talking about? Have you visited halfway houses? Do you know that for everyone who is there, the other option is prison?

  6. Golly, I thought the privatization of gov’t resources and functions was supposed to be better for us.

    Consider for a minute that maybe the American Motto that profit is required for a system to be well run is actually the American Myth.

    Now imagine if we took the profit out of healthcare, warfare and education while we’re taking the profit out of incarceration.

  7. Wow! There are actually people who think that government-operated jails and prisons are better than those run by the private sector. On what planet is this the case?

    As to the eventual fate of parolees in halfway houses that may close, my guess is that Denver will dump them on the streets with about 4,000 other homeless people counted in last January’s MDHI Point-in-Time Survey. (I guarantee that figure is an undercount by a factor of at least 2.) See it here: https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/mdhi/pages/231/attachments/original/1565116213/Denver_complete.pdf?1565116213

    Of course, none of this will have any effect whatsoever on U.S. immigration policy and enforcement. AOC Lite and the other faux progressives on Denver City Council will be too busy patting themselves on the back to notice.

      • I’ve been in Missouri DOC, operated by the state, and at the time I entered it the dayrooms were packed full of inmates on cots due to severe overcrowding. The US DOJ ordered that ended, and hundreds of short-term offenders were released.

        I’ve also been a homeless camper in Boulder, CO for a decade.

        Immigration is an issue I’ve followed for decades.

        All of the above leads me to scratch my head at your question. What does any of it have to do with the state of health care in America today? Obviously, [WhodunitCare] has not solved any problems, and even the Dems acknowledge that by their focus on new programs. Of course, undocumented immigrants are thrilled to sign up for California’s free health care, despite its inadequacies.

        • The point of course is to illustrate the fallacy that profit is required in our systems that deal with incarceration.

          Or healthcare.

          Or education.

          Or war.

          Etc, etc, etc.

          You see…the fact that so many of our global peers get better results than we do in these areas, without the burden of maintaining a healthy profit margin, begs the question…why do so many conservatives think so little of our country that they believe we’re incapable of emulating some of those best practices?

          I’d like to think we’re smart enough to get that done.

          • Can you name any government agency that does not make it a point to spend every penny budgeted and then ask for more? There’s no moral superiority to government vs. private sector operations, certainly not in corrections.

            People don’t really understand the European model of health care, so here’s a Swedish government website explaining that country’s system: https://sweden.se/society/health-care-in-sweden/

            I think this model is not nearly as radical as “Medicare for all” touted by the Far Left.

    • the other thing that no one is talking about is the list of people who are currently in DOC who can’t get out because of the uncertainty of this program. That list will only grow. Then there are the people who have pending criminal cases where their lawyers would ask for Community Corrections but it is uncertain whether that program will even exist in 6 months or a year. More people will get sentenced to prison by some judges at least.

  8. So Americans sentenced to Prison, behave themselves and earn the right to be released to a halfway house to try and re-enter society, is now facing being incarcerated again because city leaders decide to do away with the home they occupy? A lot of these people do not have family in the area to turn to. Halfway Houses provide a base and address in which to apply for jobs. Even though some have family in the area, they are not allowed to live with them because they are employed in jobs that involves firearms in the home. These are the forgotten people whose lives are now at the mercy of greedy politicians with no horse in the race and its all about money. Hope is one of the worst thing that you can take away from a person. These are people that long to get back to families children and feel like a person again. Do some people in halfway houses find it a good fit and break rules that lands them back where they started from? Of course they do. What is so appalling to me is the constant focus on people forcing their way across our borders and how bad they are being treated..They are living in cages, families are being separated. If you break a law in this country rest assured you will be put in a cage and your child will be separated from you..Why are Illegals handled with kid gloves and the medias outrageous cries for them to be released? What about Americans who want to be allowed to simply enter society and a second chance? Sadly our City Government seems ready to toss them out into the streets or back to a prison they worked hard to get out of.. Maybe they plan on using the empty Half-Way Houses as a place to set up rooming for the never ending Illegals who need a place to stay.

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