Denver Isn't Likely to Divest From Private Prison Companies Until 2022

Denver Isn't Likely to Divest From Private Prison Companies Until 2022
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The August 5 decision by Denver City Council to end the city's halfway house contracts with GEO Group and CoreCivic signaled that members, especially the newly elected, progressive contingency that swayed the vote, were done doing business with private prison companies. But the City of Denver hasn't caught up, and isn't likely to until 2022.

On January 31 of that year, a multimillion-dollar contract between Denver and BI Incorporated, a subsidiary of GEO Group, one of the largest and most controversial private prison companies in the U.S., will expire. For decades, the city has contracted with BI Incorporated, a Boulder-based company founded in 1978 that manufactures ankle monitors, to provide the monitors for pre-trial defendants making their way through the court system and individuals sentenced to house arrest; in 2018, city council re-upped the $5 million contract. GEO Group, which runs an immigration detention facility in Aurora through a contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, bought BI for $415 million in 2011.

The only way the deal could end before 2022 is if BI breaches the contract or if the executive director of the Denver Department of Public Safety determines that ending the contract before it expires would be in "the best interest of the city," according to language from the document (Denver used the same clause, known as "termination for convenience," to end its massive airport renovation contract with Great Hall Partners).

Department of Safety spokeswoman Kelli Christensen says executive director Troy Riggs does not plan to terminate the contract. Even Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who led the vote against renewing the halfway house contracts, says the deal is likely to remain in place until it expires.

"The milk is spilled and we can’t cry over that one, and that’s why it’s more important for us to course-correct with the contract we can in the moment," CdeBaca says referring to the halfway house contracts. "I don’t think that pursuing an ability to end this contract with [BI] right now makes a lot of sense."

CdeBaca hopes that by the time the contract is up for renewal, the Department of Public Safety will have explored other ankle-monitoring companies so that council can approve a contract with a new vendor.

Severing the halfway house contracts with GEO and CoreCivic has left city and state officials scrambling to figure out a short-term fix to keep residents from returning to prison and a longer-term solution to make sure the city can increase its halfway house bed capacity. The companies currently operate six halfway houses combined, which serve over 500 individuals. Since the city's contracts with GEO and CoreCivic were not renewed, the halfway houses are operating on a short-term basis to keep occupants from returning to jail or prison. City officials are negotiating with GEO Group and CoreCivic to establish a formal plan for payment of continued, temporary halfway house operations, which would also ensure that some of the programs offered to residents will continue.

Earlier this month, the City of Boulder informed BI that the Boulder Police Department would no longer provide off-duty officers to its headquarters. Organizations and companies routinely use off-duty officers to bolster security in a building or at an event.

The decision came after the city received emails from Boulder City Council members and constituents who were concerned about the city's association with GEO Group.

"Because there was community concern and Boulder does not support the detention centers, the decision was made because there are other agencies that could provide this off-duty service and Boulder was not going to participate in this," says city spokesman Patrick von Keyserling.

BI calls the decision to stop offering off-duty officers a political stunt.

“This politically motivated decision tells our Boulder employees who develop technology and provide services that specifically keep people out of detention centers, that they can be protected by local law enforcement but only until they reach their jobs. This sets a very dangerous precedent for other local businesses and employees across the county that partisan political decisions are now a priority over the public safety of local residents," a BI spokesperson wrote in an email to Westword.
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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.