Community correction facilities are essential for successful reentry to the community for individuals approved by the Department of Corrections for release to Denver and approved by Denver's Community Corrections Board. These facilities cut down recidivism rates by providing program participants with resources to ease their transition. This model equips the individuals with the tools to eventually be on their own, and is better overall for their success and the safety of Denver residents.
Our community corrections facilities were disrupted when Denver City Council voted in 2019 to close GEO and Core Civic run facilities. Since then, the result has been a significant loss in bed capacity and, in turn, has exacerbated wait periods for inmates approved by our local Community Corrections Board. Currently, there is a waitlist of about 150 approved inmates who will have to wait six-to-eight months before getting the opportunity to enter a community corrections facility. This causes significant delays for deserving inmates to have access to a supportive and structured environment where they can seek employment, develop coping skills and situate themselves for life outside the justice system. Inmates have a better chance of avoiding a return to prison through these supports offered.
Before 2019, Denver contracted with two private companies — GEO and Core Civic — to run several of our community corrections facilities. Unfortunately, Denver City Council discontinued those contracts because a policy decision was made to divest from these companies that also contract with the federal government to run immigration detention facilities. I agreed with Councilwoman CdeBaca in principle when she encouraged a “no” vote on the contracts. However, I strongly discouraged my colleagues from voting against these contracts until we had a plan to replace the beds that would be lost by contracting with another program operator. I wanted to avoid any impact on the individuals who were thriving in these facilities. As a result of that vote, a total of five facilities were closed and another is scheduled to close in June 2023. Before the policy change, community correction facilities served 750 people. Now, there are only 419 beds available and after next year's facility closure, an additional 120 beds will be lost. With the decrease in bed capacity of more than 50%, any additional losses will further the impact on approved inmates. These individuals will have to wait even longer in our jails and state prisons if bed capacity isn't replaced. They may in fact reach their mandatory release date before a bed is ever available.
Denver did buy a building from one of these companies. Using a hybrid model, the city now manages the property and a new operator is running the programming. This model is more costly to the city and only offsets the losses by 60 beds. Without enough community corrections beds, it is harder for individuals re-entering their community from prison or jail to be successful. They need the support and structure offered through these programs to avoid a return to the correction system.
People in community corrections re-offend less than 2% of the time while residing in a facility. For those that complete the program successfully, approximately two-thirds will not recidivate in the first two years post-completion. Having enough capacity in community corrections improves public safety and, most importantly, the lives of the program participants.
Why is this important to you? It benefits all of us when returning inmates have access to successful, supportive programs. The cost of incarceration decreases and is less of a burden on taxpayers. Participants obtain employment while in these programs, and their income can help offset some of the costs of housing, treatment, child support and restitution. They also develop job skills, learn coping techniques, maintain sobriety and/or learn other necessary skills to give them the opportunity to thrive upon completion of these programs.
While under the supervision of committed professionals, clients have expectations to meet and follow rules. The termination of the GEO and Core Civic contracts has essentially denied individuals the opportunity to make a more successful transition. As a member of the Crime Prevention and Control Commission (CPCC), I am committed to successful programs that work with our justice-involved individuals. I look forward to seeing future contracts brought to Denver City Council for approval that would increase bed capacity because this is a move in the right direction.
Deborah "Debbie" Ortega is an at-large member of Denver City Council. She can be reached at email@example.com or 720-337-7713.