After months of speculation, Delaware County has renewed its multimillion-dollar contract with a private-prison firm with just two weeks to spare.
The county’s prison board on Wednesday unanimously voted to approve a five-year agreement with GEO Group to operate the George W. Hill Correctional Facility in Thornton, the only privately run facility of its kind in the state.
GEO pledged to add services to the facility, including expanded drug-treatment and behavioral rehabilitation programs, and make a $14.8 million commitment for capital improvement projects — essentially an interest-free loan for the county.
The company estimates the contract’s five years will cost the county about $259 million,according to data from the prison board. And unlike the current contract with GEO, which expires on Dec. 31, the new agreement gives the board the ability to terminate it with 180 days' notice.
“The procurement process has been completed in compliance with the law, but it has been much more than that,” prison board Chairman John C. Hosier said. “The contract requirements exceed those imposed in other jurisdictions ... and were developed with the health and safety of inmates, staff, visitors, and the general public in mind.”
As the deadline for the contract neared, some local officials and citizens pushed for changes at the jail, which has been beset in recent years by reports of violence and inmate suicides. Some of those activists attended Wednesday’s meeting, calling for transparency and bemoaning the continuation of the county’s dealings with GEO.
“I’m concerned with what happens at this facility. What happens in New Mexico I take with a grain of salt,” Hosier later said, referring to reports of lawsuits at other prisons GEO operates throughout the country. “I’ve gotten to know the people at GEO that work with us here, and I trust them.”
Currently, Delaware County pays GEO nearly $50 million annually for its operation of George W. Hill’s 1,883 beds.
GEO, headquartered in Boca Raton, Fla., is the second-largest private-prisons firm in the world. The company took over George W. Hill when the county privatized it in 1996, and held that contract until it was terminated in 2008 amid a flurry of lawsuits and costly settlements over inmate injuries and deaths.
Another company, Community Education Centers, handled the prison until 2017, when the company was acquired by GEO.
Hosier said the request for proposals for the new contract began in June, and bids were solicited from five private prison companies. The board whittled that list down to two: GEO and Management & Training Corp. (MTC), based in Utah.