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Denver's City Council spotlighted nationally in private prison vote

The atmosphere prior to the final vote casting on one specific matter before the Denver City Council last Monday was tense. Council president Jolon Clark made a pre-tally statement that subject matter deliberations were "tearing all of us apart."

The final vote certainly reflected that. In what one media report termed "a stunner," the "no" votes of eight council members axed the contract renewal prospects for two giants in the private prison industry.

CoreCivic and GEO Group have been operating halfway houses in Denver that serve hundreds of formerly incarcerated individuals working their way back into community life. The two companies are the nation's largest private-lockup entities.

And they are controversial, having received scathing and increasingly widespread criticism for their alleged mistreatment of inmates, especially immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

That treatment was obviously a paramount concern for many council members. One of them stated that he voted against renewing the private-detainment contracts because GEO Group and CoreCivic "put kids in cages {and] run concentration camps." Another said that her conscience would not allow her "to put money into these businesses."

Notably, no council member - including any of the four individuals who voted to renew the contracts - uttered a word of support for either of the two detention operators.

Yet all councilmembers were clearly conflicted, given that the options going forward in the near wake of the no-renewal reality are unclear for about 500 people who presently reside in the re-entry facilities. Reportedly, some of them will be returned to custody.

One voiced hope is that community re-entry centers that can do a better job of promoting assimilation might quickly emerge.

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