by Chanel Ward
CoreCivic has received much media attention in the last couple weeks following Denver’s City Council vote to end $10.5 million of annual contracts with GEO and CoreCivic in an eight to four vote, gaining national attention, specifically for newly elected Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca who trail blazed the efforts.
CoreCivic and GEO are private prison and detention companies.
On August 20, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock visited with CoreCivic Fox’s community corrections facility located in Commerce City, where he met with their Managing Director for the Colorado branch, Shannon Carst, including five voluntary residents who are a part of the rehabilitation program and a large amount of unexpected media presence.
The Mayor first toured the facility and interacted with a small classroom of men, where he was led to another small classroom to sit and talk directly to the residents and press.
Carst hopes for renewal of a long-term contract. “We do believe we’re doing good services here and we’re really concerned,” said Carst.
“Of course that night [August 5], we were not expecting this, our primary focus was the staff and residents, because we have 350 males that are provided for; and what happens to them and staff,” asked Carst, while explaining how communication was immediate with not only staff, but also the residents to ensure that they did not run from the program in fear of being sent back to prison. The 90-day facility has a strict policy against leaving the premises at all without staff permission and presence.
“We don’t do people like this, we’re going to take care of them [staff] and the residents until we can work something out,” expressed Carst. “It was not okay to just send them back to prison, they really worked hard to be here, it’s not easy.”
Mayor Hancock asked Carst severeal questions about the facility as she walked him and the trailing media through the hall and classrooms. Five of the residents sat down with the mayor, all at different levels of their rehabilitation, to explain how they would be affected if the facility closed and how it has helped them recover from a troubled past.
“There’s a decision made by our city council not to fund certain contracts for any corrections a couple weeks ago,” started Mayor Hancock. “The efforts here would be disrupted, so I wanted to hear first-hand from some of the clients.”
“It affects us a lot, because those of us that are here, we take it serious, without this treatment, I was going down a downward spiral and it changed my life,” explained Daniel Rubalcava, one of the men looking at an uncertain fate.
Roger Davis, another resident at CoreCivic, has been in and out of the system for 14 years and says he has gained more in his 60 days than altogether in and out of prison. “The thing that’s different from this place is the therapist and the counselors really step up their game.” Davis elaborated, “They help us work on, not just drug treatment issues, but other issues that we didn’t even know we had.”
Security staff at CoreCivic’s Fox is on watch 24/7, as well as one case manager and clinician to every 12 patients. GEO and CoreCivic take in 15 new inmates each month and have not received referrals or taken in any new inmates since the vote, they said.
When the Mayor asked about where they would be without the program, they all replied that prison would be the alternative.
Lyndell Daniels Jr., has 12 days left before being released, “I wake up everyday thinking that I still got a chance of going back to prison and it’s all out of my control.”
Orlando Rodríguez doesn’t believe that he’d have the support of his friends and family if it weren’t for the program. “I was out there on parole, but still messing up, this place has been real supportive, they help out with so much more than just treatment.”
Another resident, Cameron Dorkins came from being homeless.
“Coming here I got the resources to continue staying sober and the will,” he added, “they helped me get my ID back, they’re helping me get my social security, birth certificate and everything to where I can go get a job and be a productive member of society.”
The stories of these five gentlemen, who offered to share their stories at their own will, alike are the stories of the other 345 men being transitioned and their fates are still up for question as well as 140 employees.
Mayor Hancock asked the men, “If you had a message to those that decided to mix politics around immigration, with the current situation and your situation and this opportunity here; what would you say to them?”
“It’s two totally different worlds, taking away this is going to affect our community,” replied Davis. “Then the recidivism rate is going to go through the roof, because you’re going to be letting people out without the tools and the steps needed to rebuild your life.”
Troy Riggs, the Executive Director for Public Safety in Denver accompanied the Mayor in speaking with the residents and answering media questions. “We’re fairly optimistic we’ll be able to move this forward, but it’s in the Council’s hands and we’re meeting with them now. I’ve personally met with half of the council members in the last couple days,” said Riggs to the men.
“I wanted to come have a conversation with the clients and to hear that directly from them and you heard them, in a very articulate way, express the importance of keeping these programs going and that they stay on track and they said exactly what I hoped they would say in my presence and if we were lucky enough to have some of you [media] show up, in your presence.” explained the Mayor about the purpose of his visit.
“Hearing that the Council was interested in maybe extending the contracts, we’re able to continue these services with the Council now,” said Riggs who also explained the alternative. “If we cannot extend, we may have to send these individuals back.”
The Mayor said about the vote, “I got to tell you, I’m not sure there was a lot of thought done that goes along with this decision by City Council, because the reality is that to surrender — to render the lives of 500 individuals — and create a backlog and a D.O.C. [Dept. of Corrections] system flies in the face of all those social justice conversations that many of the Council members have had coming into city council. That is contradictory to their position.”
Regarding CoreCivic’s immigration facility, the Mayor said, “Obviously it is something we are concerned about, [we] have been concerned about immigrations facilities. I asked them [CoreCivic] directly about it when we met, they invited me out to tour the Aurora complex and to take a look at it and say ‘you will see that it is not what has been documented’ about it. So, we may very well go out and take a look at it, but we are also talking about a nation-wide approach, which emanates from the White House as well as just the overall private prison complex, which needs to be addressed. Criminal Justice is real and that’s why disrupting programs like this doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
The Weekly Issue/El Semanario’s August 15 edition, published an article regarding the Denver City Council vote on Aug. 5, and District 9 Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca explained the Council vote:
“We as a council don’t have any power to negotiate a contract, we only have the power to vote yes or no on the contracts, and so all of the negotiation power rests within the Mayor and his office,” said CdeBaca.
“We had initially asked them – before it came up for the vote – to go back to the table and to figure out a plan to divest and come back to us with a different option and a clear plan of how we were going to get away from these contracts, because we knew peoples’ lives were in jeopardy,” said CdeBaca.
“They refused. Our own public of safety/community corrections division. They did not have a plan and are funded exclusively to hold these organizations accountable, and to have a plan, and to have RFP’s [request for proposal] out, and they didn’t have that and it was clear during the testimony that they were unprepared, and I think that is part of what got my colleagues to vote against this contract. They shouldn’t be taking for granted our vote and approval of these contracts, they should always have a plan,” she ended.
To see if your local representative is on the Prison Population Management Interim Study Committee, go to denvergov.org.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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