Democratic Socialist Lawmaker Persuades Fellow Denver City Council Members to End Contracts With For-Profit Prison Operators

Denver City Council member Candi CdeBaca, a democratic socialist who won her seat in June, convinced the other members of the city council to vote to end contracts for for-profit prisons in the city. (Photo by Brent Lewis/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

Democratic Socialist Lawmaker Persuades Fellow Denver City Council Members to End Contracts With For-Profit Prison Operators

"Still think local elections don't matter?"

Two for-profit prison operators lost a combined $10.6 million in contracts after a progressive councilwoman convinced her fellow members of the Denver City Council to end the city's involvement with Core Civic and the GEO Group.

City councilor Candi CdeBaca, who won her seat in June after campaigning on a Democratic Socialist platform, organized community members to speak out Monday against the two companies' contracts with the city, under which they have long operated six halfway houses in Denver.

The companies also run the majority of Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) immigration detention centers, where children and adults have been subjected to neglect and abuse under the Trump administration and where at least 24 people have died since President Donald Trump took office.

"We've watched these large entities gobble up smaller providers with public dollars and little to no transparency or accountability," CdeBaca told her fellow council members.

As Ryan Grim reported in The Intercept Thursday, CdeBaca called on members of local groups--including the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, the ACLU, and Black Lives Matter--to speak at the city council's meeting.

"We've got to quit feeding the beast of for-profit in our criminal justice system," said Denise Maes, policy director for the ACLU of Colorado.

"Will my family end up in one of the GEO and CoreCivic concentration camps that profit off of us?" added community member Alma Urbano, who has DACA status.

After hearing from the advocates, seven of CdeBaca's 12 colleagues joined her in voting to end the contracts.

"I am blown away," CdeBaca toldThe Colorado Independent. "I have a newfound respect for my colleagues who showed immense courage and determination tonight in one of the most challenging votes possible."

CdeBaca acknowledged that a just transition away from the GEO Group's and CoreCivic's operation of the halfway houses is necessary for the sake of the 500 former inmates who are currently living there. The end of the contacts could mean some of the residents will be sent back to prison while others may be paroled. About 100 inmates who were scheduled to arrive at the halfway houses may now have longer prison stays.

The city should transition toward local control of the halfway houses over a six-to-ten month period, CdeBaca told The Intercept.

"I am very concerned about the 500 beds that we jeopardized by this vote, and I want to see a plan to make sure that we transition out of these contracts in a way that is just for the residents of these facilities," she said.

CdeBaca's success in convincing the Denver City Council to vote against the two companies is a "signal of the [Democratic Socialists of America's] rising influence," Grim wrote, "and the willingness of mainstream politicians to follow the lead of organizers and activists making a stark moral argument."

Others also applauded CdeBaca for leading the city's fight against the for-profit industry and the Trump administration's use of the GEO Group and Core Civic to commit what immigrant rights advocates have decried as human rights abuses, while enriching the two companies.

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