Denver Halfway House Residents Still Have Home for Now, City Says

The 500-plus residents of the Denver halfway houses whose contracts weren't renewed won't be left in the lurch.

"There are no immediate plans to return individuals to custody who are housed at the two GEO- or the four CoreCivic-owned facilities," Kelli Christensen, a spokeswoman for Denver's Department of Public Safety, said in a statement. If kicked out of the facilities, the individuals would either go back to prison, jail, or would be paroled out of Department of Corrections custody by what experts characterize as an extremely overworked state parole board.

On August 5, Denver City Council, led by Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, voted eight to four against renewing the halfway house contracts with GEO Group and CoreCivic, the two largest private prison companies in the country. The vote came after dozen of members of the public and multiple city council members criticized the companies for their work in state prisons and immigrant detention centers, including GEO's controversial facility in Aurora.

The year-long contracts for the halfway houses, which had been renewed on an annual basis in recent years, added up to over $10.5 million for the two companies. Now, only the locally owned Independence House and the University of Colorado have funding for halfway houses in Denver.

A CoreCivic spokeswoman says that it wouldn't immediately evict residents, despite the fact that the previous year's contracts expired on June 30.

"While several questions exist (about what happens going forward), we have agreed to keep our doors open to the clients we serve in the hopes of finding a resolution that works for everyone," writes Amanda Gilchrist, public affairs director at CoreCivic, in an email to Westword.

The office of Mayor Michael Hancock criticized what it believes to be a damaging choice by city council.

"We understand city council’s concerns around the holders of these contracts, and share the much broader national demand for better treatment and conditions for those in federal custody due to their immigration status," Hancock spokeswoman Theresa Marchetta said in a statement. "However, Denver’s current zoning presents no other viable alternatives for these community corrections facilities, and now as a result of council’s decision, more than 500 individuals in need of a second chance are at risk of being placed back in prison, hindering their rehabilitation and further burdening our jails and prisons. We are disappointed that council did not renew these contracts while other alternatives were explored."

Councilman Kevin Flynn, who voted in favor of renewing the contracts, feels that the decision to not renew the contracts will have negative repercussions for the individuals currently living in the facilities. "I'm not opposed to divesting our interests from those companies, but I do think it should've been done with a transition plan in place," Flynn says. "What we did was sort of cut the brake line on a moving car before we knew how we were going to stop."

Denver's current zoning code limits the amount that existing halfway houses can expand and the development of new facilities. Aside from the 500-plus affected individuals, there are also more than 200 people currently in prison or jail that have already been accepted into halfway house programs but are sitting on a waiting list.

The city is working on an update to the zoning code to make it easier for halfway house operators to expand their capacity. But the earliest that city council would vote on the amendment would be early next year.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.