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Colorado Springs private prison closing in March

Posted at 2:25 PM, Jan 07, 2020

COLORADO SPRINGS — The Department of Corrections was given 60 days notice by the GEO Corporation that they intend to close the Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center on March 7, 2020.

Cheyenne Mountain Re-Entry Center, a level 3 custody private prison, has nearly 650 male offenders in custody at that facility in Colorado Springs.

The DOC has said that it has had ongoing issues regarding GEO Group’s operations at the facility, including their treatment efforts, offender programs, staffing issues and turnover rates, and had been somewhat expecting the CMRC’s closure, though it had hoped for a longer transition period.

“While we had been maintaining regular communications with the GEO Corporation regarding our serious concerns about their current operations and the terms of our contract with them, we had simultaneously been preparing for the very real concern that they would choose to rapidly close the facility. Although we are disappointed by their decision, we are confident that as a department we will be able to manage the considerable impact of this change safely,” Department of Corrections Executive Director Dean Williams said in a statement.

“The use of private prisons in our state does not just raise philosophical or ethical questions, but also creates serious operational concerns when a for-profit company can choose to close its doors and leave the department to navigate what to do with 650 offenders," he added.

Gov. Jared Polis included in his budget proposal for this year money that would be targeted at moving prisoners out of CMRC and into other already-existing correctional facilities, as well as possibly into a currently-shuttered facility in Cañon City called Centennial South or CSP II.

Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo, said Tuesday that the new development created a new challenge for lawmakers and for the Joint Budget Committee as it decides whether to approve Polis and the DOC's requests for money to reopen CSP II.

As a result, part of the Governor’s budget proposal for this year was targeted at removing offenders from CMRC and re-distributing the current population to increase safety across our facilities.

As part of that budget process, CDOC proposed phasing out offenders in the CMRC facility and re-opening two towers of Centennial South in Canon City, in order to house additional offenders. That facility was completed in 2010, closed in 2012, and is currently not in operation.

While Centennial South was originally designed and built to house offenders in administrative segregation, the facility has undergone retrofitting that would allow it to house close-custody and other offenders with more extensive management needs.

If Centennial South reopens, the CDOC will look to transfer close-custody offenders from other facilities to Centennial South, and use those vacated beds for medium-custody offenders impacted by the closing at CMRC.

In a statement, GEO Group spokesperson Brian Miller said that the company has “experience challenges in retaining and recruiting staff” at CMRC since Polis’ budget proposal to close the facility was made and that, along with “the interest of [GEO Group] staff and those entrusted to our care”, were the reasons for terminating the contract effective March 7.

“We will work with the DOC to develop a transition plan and prioritize the health, safety and well-being of CMRC staff and residents,” Miller said. “The state has made its intentions clear; that it wants to manage this population within its own facilities, and we will work with them toward that end.”

Denver 7's Blair Miller contributed to this story.