DENVER – The Denver Department of Public Safety is asking the city council to approve short-term contracts for two companies that provide community corrections facilities and halfway houses in Denver and the city plans to form an advisory committee to address the concerns that led the council to cancel the contracts earlier this month in the first place.
The department has asked the city council to vote on the new, short-term contracts as soon as at next Monday’s meeting as the city tries to address the situation.
The department is asking the council to approve a six-month contract with GEO Group to continue to operate its two facilities, which contain 157 beds, through the end of the year – retroactive to July 1.
It also wants the council to approve a new year-long contract with CoreCivic, whose four facilities contain 360 beds, through June 30, 2020, retroactive to July 1.
The city also wants to form an advisory of 13 members led by Community Corrections Director Greg Mauro and a community co-chair. The city says the council would have input on the co-chair and that committee members would be picked based on their involvement and knowledge of community corrections in local criminal justice systems.
The city says that the committee would be formed by Aug. 30 if the council approves the short-term contracts and would begin meeting in September through the end of 2019.
It says the committee’s purpose would be to try and find other options to replace the programs currently operated by GEO Group and CoreCivic. The committee, if formed, would make recommendations to the city’s Executive Director of Public Safety at the end of next January.
Executive Director of Public Safety Troy Riggs said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that the transition was going to be difficult even if council passes the measure, and said he believed it would be unlikely that the city could provide services to more-than 740 people at the same time next year, as it does now.
"This is going to be a difficult task moving forward, but we're committed to it because there are so many human beings involved," Riggs said.
The city says it hopes to utilize the committee and short-term contracts in order to address the concerns from the council members who voted to kill the contracts at the beginning of August. They voiced concerns that the two companies were also operating immigration detention facilities in other parts of the state and country.
But the council’s decision left the two companies operating the facilities without a contract and on good-faith. There are nearly 500 people currently in Denver’s community corrections program, and another 283 who have been approved for the program who are in limbo. The city says that about 140 staff members are also affected. The city says zoning rules make it difficult to build new halfway houses, and the companies in question own the properties they are operating.
The companies have continued to operate the facilities without contracts, keeping the 492 people in the program from going back to jail or prison for the time being. Should the council approve the new contracts, the companies would be paid for the services provided since their last contracts expired.
"The reason for the backdate is to compensate for services already provided since July 1," Mauro said at the afternoon news conference.
He said that the contracts and committee, if approved, would seek to accomplish three things: stabilizing services, committing to a re-evaluation of community corrections in Denver, and the hopeful full restoration of communicty corrections servicing to Denver -- though he said there was "no guarantee" that would happen.
Mayor Michael Hancock said after the council’s decision that he was disappointed and would be discussing next steps with the council. He on Tuesday spent part of the afternoon visiting one of the facilities and speaking with some of the people affected, telling them he and others were working on a plan.
Riggs made clear at the news conference what would happen should council not approve the short-term contracts.
“Unfortunately, we’ll have to start the process of figuring out how to move people back to jail," he said. "It’s that simple.”
Councilwoman At-Large Robin Kniech, who initially voted to cancel the contracts earlier this month, told Denver7 in an interview Wednesday that she thought it would be necessary to approve the short-term contracts.
She said that she believes the new council is “getting more aligned and collaborating” and that they should work with the mayor’s administration and Department of Public Safety on this particular issue.
“If we don’t want to spend our dollars with companies who run immigration facilities that we have moral concerns with, then we will all have to be helping work together to find new places. So, there’s an important call to action here for our city,” Kniech said. “I would say I’m not on a different side of the chessboard than the administration, than the residents of these facilities.”
She said she believes the two companies should be paid for the services they’ve provided since the end of the contracts and that the people in community corrections and their families should have closure soon.
“These are people’s lives and they’re important values about human rights,” she said. “To them, I want to say we could have done better. We could have slowed down and had this conversation without the uncertainty. But we are making it right.”