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Private Halfway Houses Plagued with Escapes, Drugs, Sex and Violence

by Chad Marks

Halfway houses run by for-profit prison companies CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America) and GEO Group, which are supposed to provide reentry programs and substance abuse treatment for soon-to-be-released prisoners, have been plagued with problems.

Colorado inspectors found that staff at two halfway houses – the Boulder Community Treatment Center (BCTC) and Longmont Community Treatment Center (LCTC), both operated by CoreCivic – failed to properly document 40 new arrests or court summons for prisoners enrolled in the programs between 2015 and 2018. Also unreported during that period were two escapes, 39 medical events and 15 other incidents, including eight related to Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) standards.

CoreCivic employees were tasked with following prisoner disciplinary guidelines known as the Behavioral Shaping Model and Reinforcement Tool (BSMART). That system was supposed to address violations by prisoners such as drug use and bringing contraband into the facilities. But according to Valarie Schamper, a supervisor at the state’s Division of Criminal Justice, “What was found in these two reviews, they threw the model out.”

Officials visiting LCTC discovered that 10 incident reports were in process over the course of a week. There were no staff reports regarding those incidents, though when violations occurred it was clear staff had failed to properly respond – even when prisoners went missing. Many incident reports issued for misconduct at BCTC were dismissed for no legitimate reason.

Derek Brown, an LCTC resident who was eventually kicked out of the halfway house, reported other prisoners smoked crack in the bathroom and got into numerous fights. Boulder County officials responded with increased police presence at both facilities.

Problems at the Carver Transitional Center (CTC), a halfway house operated by CoreCivic in Oklahoma, caused officials from the state’s Department of Corrections (DOC) to intervene, moving at least 15 prisoners to higher-security facilities in January 2018.

On January 23, 2018, CTC resident Jeremy Cole was found nude and behaving belligerently in the hallway at the facility. Oklahoma City police tased Cole twice, but that failed to stop him. Officers reported that they believed he was using PCP. While police were dealing with Cole, another resident – identified as Kirk Shields – reportedly yelled “f*** the police.”

Shields was not one of the 15 prisoners moved to another facility because he walked away from CTC before he could be transferred. Police later located him after receiving reports that someone had attacked a man with a crowbar. They tased and then shot him. Shields was expected to survive the shooting.

Also in Oklahoma, CoreCivic was the subject of two lawsuits filed over the 2017 deaths of Richard Eubanks, 54, and David Walden, 47, at the company’s Tulsa Transitional Center. Pleas for medical assistance from both prisoners were allegedly ignored, prompting the DOC to open an investigation into their deaths in November 2017. 

In the first half of 2018, at least a dozen prisoners walked away from the Casper Re-Entry Center, a Wyoming halfway house run by GEO Group, including 25-year-old Michael J. Elliot, who was serving an eight- to 14-year sentence for aggravated burglary. In 2017, 15 residents absconded from the same facility.

Another prisoner escaped from the halfway house in December 2018, allegedly with the help of a GEO Group employee. Police announced in early January 2019 that they were searching for Richard Fountaine, a convicted burglar whose escape was abetted by GEO staff member Kimberly Belcher. Belcher is accused of providing Fountaine with a cell phone and may have supplied the escape vehicle. Fountaine and Belcher were captured in Georgia on January 11, 2019.

In addition to the escape from the Casper Re-Entry Center, at least three employees at the facility have been charged in recent years with having sex with residents. 

Given these developments, it is apparent that prisoners at privately-operated halfway houses are focused less on re-entry and more on simply trying to stay safe and avoiding other residents who engage in misconduct. 

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Sources: trib.com, timescall.com, KFOR.com, news9.com, kjrh.com

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