Denver city council to consider $1.3 million purchase of halfway house from private prison company

Denver city council to consider $1.3 million purchase of halfway house from private prison company
Vehicles are parked outside the ...
David Zalubowski, Associated Press file

In this April 15, 2017, file photo, vehicles are parked outside the entrance to the GEO Group’s immigrant detention facility in Aurora.

Denver City council members will start to deliberate next week whether to spend $1.3 million to purchase one of the halfway house facilities from the private corrections company that is expected to close next week.

The imminent closure of Tooley Hall will be the end of the city’s community corrections contracts with GEO Group, one of the largest private prison companies in the U.S. The potential purchase of the facility is the latest move by city officials trying to plot a way forward after city council voted in August to abruptly end contracts with the two private prison companies that owned and operated six facilities that serve as an alternative to prison.

Since then, city staff and an advisory committee have worked to untangle what Greg Mauro, director of Denver Community Corrections, called “a spiderweb of issues” before the contracts end. The contract with GEO Group will expire Dec. 31 and the contracts for the four halfway houses operated by CoreCivic end June 30. The committee and city staff are tasked with finding or creating new programs in a relatively short period of time while navigating strict city zoning regulations and avoiding the creation of any backlogs in jails or prisons.

“Right now we’re up against a ticking clock,” Mauro said in an interview Friday.

City council’s finance and governance committee will consider the real estate purchase at a meeting Tuesday, though the full council eventually will vote on the decision. But even if the city council approves the Tooley Hall purchase, it remains unclear who will run the programming there. Either way, the building would need refurbishing before it can be used again, and Mauro said the facility wouldn’t be operational until August at the earliest.

Under the ownership of GEO Group, 73 men lived at the facility, where they participated in training and counseling. All the residents will be released on parole or transferred to other Denver community corrections locations before the closure next week.

Members of the advisory committee tasked with making recommendations on how the city should proceed seemed to agree at a meeting Thursday night that programming at Tooley Hall should be dedicated to female residents if it were purchased. The city lost its sole woman-only halfway house earlier this year when GEO Group’s Williams Street facility closed.

The city will have to focus on how to transition from the four facilities operated by CoreCivic, another major private prison company. City council agreed in August to extend contracts with the company until June, but the facilities will stop taking new clients as early as January.

A resident takes part in a ...
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post

In this Aug. 6, 2019 file photo, a resident takes part in a class at CoreCivic Fox community corrections center in Denver.

 

Mauro presented three plans for the committee to consider when deciding how to move forward with the remaining four facilities:

  • Allow the contracts to expire in June and have no replacement until new service providers are found. This option would create backlog in the jails and prisons and make it difficult for judges to sentence people to community corrections instead of prison.
  • Extend contracts with CoreCivic through June 2022 while the city makes plans for next steps.
  • Extend contracts with CoreCivic through June 2022, but reduce funding by about 25% or more as the city works to replace beds or send residents to other programs, like intensive supervised parole.

Even in the best case scenario — if the city buys Tooley Hall and more people can be diverted to non-residential programs — the city will need to find or create at least 249 community corrections beds to make up for the loss of the private facilities, according to a Denver Community Corrections analysis.

“We’re going to have to think about giving more time for this divestment process,” said Hassan Latif, executive director of the Second Chance Center and co-chair of the committee.

Some advisory board members expressed hesitancy to move to extend the contracts for two more years.

“Are these the only three?” asked Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca.

“These are the only three that I have,” Mauro said.

If the city does not extend the contracts, wait lists for community corrections placements in Denver will grow and more people will sit in prison and jails, Mauro said.

The people currently in the programs will either have to be released on parole or, in a worst case scenario, sent back to prison. Mauro said there is no space in adjacent counties for more male community corrections participants, so Denver cannot transfer people out.

“It’s hard,” Mauro said. “I don’t even know how best to describe it other than a monumental task.”

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