Alex Burness, a reporter for the Colorado Independent, snared a story Monday night that had every reason to display the word “stunner” in the headline, which is always nice to see.
Candi CdeBaca, the new, socialist Denver city councilwoman, went to a council meeting that night, according to Burness, wanting to make a stand against the city’s business with the two largest private prison companies in the U.S., GEO Group and CoreCivic.
The contracts are worth $10.6 million.
Both companies have been implicated in claims of abuse suffered by migrant detainees and detention centers they run. And one, an ICE detention facility in Aurora run by GEO, was the site of a tumultuous protest three weeks ago, when activists took down the American flag and ran up the Mexican flag and a few obscene banners.
It was what democracy looks like, CdeBaca said then.
And it was the look of democracy Monday evening when CdeBaca went to the council prepared to make her case for not renewing the contracts. She expected to be the lone dissenting vote, she told Burness, but after four hours of what must have been a remarkable debate, she swayed a majority of the council to kill the contracts.
It means Denver may have to shutter its halfway houses, which could leave more than 500 jail or prison inmates stuck behind bars.
The private prison companies “are market failures, and we as a government have an obligation to intervene,” CdeBaca told the council, and so they did.
If more cities follow Denver’s lead – and we don’t see why they would not – the companies’ failure could be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And the loss could affect Colorado’s public employees retirement fund, PERA, which has 21,000 shares of Geo, valued at $408,000.
Retirement funds in other states have millions more invested in both companies.
We may be about to find out the value – and cost – of principles.