Sometimes we win, private prisons out of Denver
August 8, 2019 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Private prison contracts have been canceled in Denver thanks to the efforts of one woman.

In the June runoff election for Denver City Council district 9, Democratic Socialist Candi CdeBaca won an unexpected victory against incumbent Albus Brooks by only 747 votes. Local papers had to explain what being a Democratic Socialist meant.
posted by sotonohito (23 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
Now if we could just get private prisons out of the US...
posted by evilDoug at 10:45 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


The companies aren't operating actual prisons in Denver:
Some 500 people are currently in the four halfway houses run by CoreCivic and two run by the GEO Group, and are now at risk of being returned to prison. That’s not their certain fate, however, as parole is an additional option.
Looks like they are trying to return these facilities to local, independent control which would be a real boone (and probably save money).
For now, the halfway houses are being kept open without a contract, and the firms are under no obligation to close them immediately, as corrections officials and city policymakers transition to a new system. Short-term contracts are also possible as the city works toward a system that returns the re-entry programs to local control and away from the for-profit operators
The companies are pissed though
GEO Group spokesperson Pablo Paez slammed what he called a “radical partisan political agenda aimed at abolishing ICE,” warning it would backfire.

posted by Mitheral at 10:46 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


I agree with Denver's decision, but as Mitheral says, it's not actually cancelling private prison contracts. It's canceling contracts with companies operating halfway houses there that also operate private ICE prisons elsewhere. I think this is the right call, but it sounds like it comes with real possible negative consequences to the people in the halfway house program right now. I hope Denver is also actively exploring ways to address this; people convicted of minor crimes and drug charges shouldn't bear the burden of these companies' sins.
posted by biogeo at 10:53 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


Hopefully Denver won't just get steamrolled by the feds, I remember when Oregon made a point of saying there would be no private prisons in the state...and that held true, for the state. But when Congress decided it wanted to put some federal private prisons there, the state was powerless.
posted by trackofalljades at 11:01 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


trackofalljades, the federal prison population makes up for about 10% of all incarcerated folks. A bit over half of the us prison population is in state prisons.

this was a major critique following Obama's order to phase out the use of private citizens by the feds (that, even were it to be 100% effective it would only dent the overall private prison 'marketplace')
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:05 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


That's interesting. What accounts for the other ~40%?
posted by biogeo at 11:10 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I’m worried about the people currently in the halfway houses, that they don’t get returned to prison, but the community organizers who work with the halfway houses are hopeful, so I’m going to follow their lead.
posted by rewil at 11:12 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


That's interesting. What accounts for the other ~40%?

Based on this 2019 data from Prison Policy Initiative, I'm guessing Exceptional_Hubris misspoke slightly and meant to include jails and other non-prison detention centers in the overall total. If you do include those, that's the ~40%.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:19 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Yes, one hopes that the halfway houses will stay open and transition to nonprofits.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:23 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


yeah it was mostly rounding, the linked graphic says there are 2.3M people locked up - 1.6M state prisons, 600k local jails (google: Kalief Browder), 220k federal prisons, with another 100k spread across kids, immigration detention and territorial prisons.

I'm fine not distinguishing between jails and prisons for this purpose. as far as i am aware the main operating difference between jails and prisons is length of stay, but the status of our justice system is such that people spend life-altering amounts of time inside "jails" so discounting their role seems shortsighted.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 11:31 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


I'm actually kind of surprised they don't already have the typical exorbitantly punitive cancellation penalties that are a standard feature of most private-public "partnerships".
posted by srboisvert at 11:45 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


... thanks to the efforts of one woman.

It's worth pointing out that 7 other council members voted with her on this, and that several of them have left / social justice credentials of their own, particularly Jamie Torres.

Denver DSA also mobilized repeatedly to canvass for CdeBaca and helped her take down a far better funded two-term incumbent.

Not to diminish CdeBaca's role, but this is a product of organizing, solidarity, and collective power. It's a symbol of what we can do to these ghouls when we work together.
posted by ryanshepard at 12:02 PM on August 8 [23 favorites]


GEO Group spokesperson Pablo Paez slammed what he called a “radical partisan political agenda aimed at abolishing ICE,” warning it would backfire.

Typical hyperaggressive cop pushback. You usually see it from police unions. It might as well be a five year-old yelling "you never feed me!"
posted by rhizome at 12:22 PM on August 8 [9 favorites]


“radical partisan political agenda aimed at abolishing ICE,”

Did they just accidentally say the quiet part loud? Is it part of the playbook to admit that your nominally bi-/non-partisan federal agency is in fact a stronghold of Republican agents/views?
posted by explosion at 1:43 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


GEO Group isn't a federal agency, it's a private contractor. I think this places certain kinds of restrictions on political speech, but as far as I know they're allowed to express partisan opinions.

This is part of why private prisons, and other instances of core government functions being turned over to private corporations, should be illegal.
posted by biogeo at 2:33 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


From the fpp’s Intercept article:
THE COUNCIL’S VOTE was all the more remarkable because there were credible and sympathetic arguments against taking radical action. Some 500 people are currently in the four halfway houses run by CoreCivic and two run by the GEO Group, and are now at risk of being returned to prison. That’s not their certain fate, however, as parole is an additional option. Advocates of ending the contracts focused on the moral case to be made, and the potential for local community groups to run more humane halfway houses in the future.

“If we renew the contract, we’re supporting organizations that provide valuable services to more than 500 people and 140 employees,” said council member Chris Hinds, spelling out the dilemma [*]. “We’re also supporting organizations that put kids in cages, run concentration camps.”

CdeBaca acknowledged the moral quandary. “I am very concerned about the 500 beds that we jeopardized by this vote, and I want to see a plan to make sure that we transition out of these contracts in a way that is just for the residents of these facilities,” she said, arguing that a transition could be made in six to 10 months, but the power to do it was in the hands of the mayor and the firms. “There’s essentially a monopoly emerging here, not just in Denver but nationally with CoreCivic and GEO and that is a problem.”
*Explained by The Denver Post: Hundreds in prison limbo after Denver council breaks up with halfway house operators:
...more than 500 people living in limbo after the Denver City Council’s dramatic decision Monday night not to renew contracts for six halfway houses. New Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca led the opposition because of objections to how the facilities’ owners operate immigrant detention facilities and private prisons nationwide.

The vote is one of the council’s sharpest and most disruptive challenges of Mayor Michael Hancock in years. The body was supposed to approve $10.6 million in new funding for CoreCivic and GEO Group.

The facilities now are operating without a contract, and the companies could close them, city staffers warned. If that happens, hundreds of the homes’ residents could be sent to prison or resentenced. Colorado’s community corrections system is running at full capacity, leaving few other options for placement, state officials said.
Tossing out the existing bad guys may be the first step, but who replaces them, what level of services can be maintained, and at what cost? There’s no gain without some loss.

More about CoreCivic and GEO Group.
posted by cenoxo at 3:53 PM on August 8


I thought this was... interesting:
Gilchrist also panned the City Council’s “deeply misguided decision,” ... adding that CoreCivic does not run any immigrant detention centers in Colorado specifically.
So, "let's pretend this company isn't committing atrocities elsewhere and keep giving them funding - as long as they're not hurting OUR people, it's fine if they're killing children?"

The simple solution to the halfway houses is to parole more of the 43% of eligible prisoners. I get that not everyone eligible for parole is remotely safe to release, but I suspect that, out of the 8,700 or so of them, they could find 500 who could reasonably be sent home. Spend some of that $10m on people whose jobs it is to research good parole candidates and present their cases to the parole board.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:49 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


Denver has become the Austin of Colorado. Decades ago, I always used to vote for the Socialist Workers' Party or somebody every four years, because we were a reliably red state. No longer. Sure, rents are ridiculous and the developers get whatever they want, but it's nice to live in a more progressive city, finally. Thanks, all y'all new people!
posted by kozad at 6:01 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


So, "let's pretend this company isn't committing atrocities elsewhere and keep giving them funding - as long as they're not hurting OUR people, it's fine if they're killing children?"

To be honest, this is evocative of a very common old school Colorado attitude.
posted by hijinx at 7:47 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


This pleases me. The company used to run a similar facility in Tulsa, until it turned out that they were running a literal fight club, betting and all, and that many of the employees were selling drugs and other contraband to the "residents," among some other seriously sick shit.

No part of the justice system should be run by for profit entities. It creates perverse incentives by definition.
posted by wierdo at 10:11 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


The simple solution to the halfway houses is to parole more of the 43% of eligible prisoners.

I don't know how it works in the States but here half way houses aren't jail-light. They are a valuable tool to reduce recidivism by helping people who have either been institutionalized or have no outside support get on their feet rather than just dumping them outside the gate. Letting people go is probably better than keeping people in jail if these facilities close but it's still less than ideal.
posted by Mitheral at 10:50 PM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I can't speak to the ones in the Denver area, but others I've seen that are run by GEO and competitors provide very little support and rarely do much supervising, either, since violating someone means that a bed will go empty and reduce revenue.

(I'm referring to facilities that haven't had widely reported scandals)

There do exist halfway houses that at least try to help people find jobs, housing, and necessary services to help people released from prison reintegrate with society, but that's not what private prison companies do, even when that's what they are being paid for.
posted by wierdo at 12:33 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Big $$$
posted by DJZouke at 4:54 AM on August 9


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