Denver chooses new jail services provider despite controversy

2 min. read

The Denver City Council has approved a new group to run a $500,000-per-year program for people leaving jail. The decision comes despite the previous contractor's allegations that the change was part of an act of political revenge.

Lisa Calderón and the Community Reentry Project had run the city's reentry services for nearly 10 years. The program shut down on Dec. 31 because its city contract had expired.

Meanwhile, the city was finalizing a new contract with Servicios de la Raza, a nonprofit focused on breaking the cycle of poverty. La Raza will work with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Urban League of Metropolitan Denver.

City officials said the change was a result of a regular review of contracts. City policy calls for contracts to be re-examined and re-bid every three to five years.

The mayor-appointed Crime Prevention and Control Commission voted 11-9 to recommend the new contractor.

Calderón alleged that Mayor Michael Hancock's administration had engineered the change as retribution because she criticized him. Hancock's office denied that.

The council approved the new contract in a 10-2 vote, though some had questions.

Councilman Paul Kashmann, who voted to approve the change, said he was concerned by the fact that the program was interrupted for several months. City staff started the search for a new contractor mid-2017, but negotiations delayed final approval for months.

"We have inmates, every day, rolling out of our downtown detention center, our county jail, who need services," Kashmann said.

Councilwoman At-large Debbie Ortega said she didn't understand why Calderón's group was dumped.

"I'm not aware of any issues with the way the Community Reentry Project was being operated," she said. "... This was one that was doing a great job."

Councilman Paul López warned his colleagues not to "rob Peter to pay Paul." The handling of the contract was "divisive," he said. "I don't like it. I don't like my community being played."

He suggested that the city double the contract value so that more people could provide more services.

López and Ortega were the only votes against the new contract. Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore was absent, and all other members voted aye.

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