By Chanel Ward
Denver Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca and Denver City Council has gained national attention after a vote to end $10.5 million a year contracts with GEO and CoreCivic, Inc. was rejected in an 8 to 4 vote on August 5.
Newly elected Councilwoman CdeBaca trailblazed the efforts that ultimately led to the end of the contracts, the problem therein lies the 500 inmates that are in jeopardy of being sent back to prison. However, a statement released by Kelli Christensen, the Director of Communications for the Department of Public Health and Safety last week stated, “The Department of Public Safety remains committed to community corrections services and the clients and families we serve. Our goal is to continue those services, uninterrupted, despite City Council’s decision earlier this week to not renew the contracts with GEO and CoreCivic.”
Councilwoman CdeBaca was reached for comments and fresh off of recognition received via social media from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who both applauded CdeBaca and Denver’s City Council for their statement-making vote.
“I pulled it [Resolutions 19-0673 and 19-0674] out to make sure that it was brought to people’s attention that we were investing in this company,” said CdeBaca, while adding, “of the thousands of contracts that come before city council, in recent years, council hasn’t denied a single one.”
CdeBaca explained, “Monday night [Aug 5], I was fully prepared to vote it down and was hoping that others would be as well, primarily because I feel like what GEO and CoreCivic stand for is problematic and I think that we had to make a statement about it.”
“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. 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.”
She continued, “We have very little control over what they do at the federal level or the state level and this was our opportunity, as a city at the local level, to do something and say something about how we felt about this organization and voting ‘no’ was the clearest way to send the message that we don’t stand for the human rights violations, we don’t stand for the monopolies, we don’t stand for their business model that is profiteering off the backs of primarily Black and Brown people who are affected by mass incarceration.”
“So to get this out, to talk about it off of the consent agenda and to have a public hearing on top of that was a pretty big deal and a pretty big fight on my end,” added CdeBaca, about the weeks leading up to the resolution hearing, which was packed with over a hundred attendees.
And while Cdebaca said, “the issue is with our structure,” she also says the problem is, “the way that our government works.”
“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. “Denver’s Public of Safety/Community Corrections Division takes 4% of that $18 million just for their staff and we’re just a pass through for the state dollars.”
One of the four votes in favor of renewing the contracts, was Councilwoman At Large Deborah Ortega who explained, “First of all, I agree with divesting from these companies, but I also wanted to make sure that we had a plan in place for the lives of the people who are in those correction programs, and it’s over 500 people.”
“Those were what my comments were about, I absolutely agree that we shouldn’t be contracting with companies that are operating these detention facilities for ICE in these inhumane conditions, but at the same time we had a local issue with people whose lives were being affected by that decision,” said Councilwoman Ortega.
“We did have a commitment from the administration where they were ready to start putting all the wheels in motion to divest, but they wanted to make sure we had something in place to deal with the people in the program today. So now, that’s what they’re doing, they’re finally trying to figure it out.”
Ortega mentioned last week’s press statement by Christensen, and explained: “Nobody’s going to be sent back to prison, they’re looking at an interim measure to keep people in the programs, but really trying to find other options.
“I encouraged them to look at city owned buildings, so that we’re not reliant on private property owners that we’re at the mercy of and then obviously we have to make sure that we have people with all the right credentials to run the program.”
Ortega also said of the vote influencing the press release: “Absolutely, the votes put the city in the situation where we now have to deal with this issue, I think in a much quicker time frame than anticipated, but it’s absolutely the right policy issue for us to be doing.”
Cdebaca’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Lisa Calderón, was one of the testimonial speakers last week and debunked several misleading points made by the opposition about halfway houses transitioning prisoners better than straight to parole, which Dr. Calderón says isn’t proven, nor is the need for a privatized prison industry in order to transition prisoners to freedom. “There is no proof that freedom comes under coercive control, and a threat to be sent back to prison,” she stated.
Calderón has years of experience in reentry programs and in an interview with El Semanario she explained, “GEO has a smaller market share in Denver and they can be phased out more quickly, but CoreCivic has a much larger share and so it will take a longer time to phase out.”
Calderón explained their plan, “A four to six month transition phase out for GEO and a ten to twelve month phase out for Core Civic. This would buy time that is needed to figure this out, address issues of zoning and also, it just lights a fire and ignites the political wheel that has been absent for years and years and years. This was a foreseeable problem and the political wheel wasn’t there to deal with it,” ended Dr. Calderón.
To watch the powerful testimonies and votes you can visit Denvergov.org or check your local listings for future live and rebroadcasting’s on Denver 8 TV.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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