The Treatment Industrial Complex 

As California transitions away from mass incarceration, a notorious private prison company has landed a multimillion-dollar state contract to provide inmate reentry services.

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In addition, at Rubicon and Root & Rebound, there is no threat of punishment for not participating; it's voluntary and self-initiated. "We expect them to be there, but we know life, especially their lives, are challenging," the Rubicon employee explained. "We try to coach them up and tell them 'This is like a job, this is why you have to be there.' We don't say, 'If you don't show up, we're going to tell your parole officer.'"

Brown of Reentry Success Center also criticized GEO and the state for embracing what she described as an outdated way of managing re-entry services. "The notion that parole has to control the environment — the service delivery and control everything about those people's movements — that's a very archaic and regressive approach to rehabilitation," she said.

"It's very old fashioned to imagine that the stick is more effective than recognizing someone's internal motivation."

Donté Blue
, deputy director of Contra Costa County's Office of Reentry and Justice, was aware of GEO Group's reputation before the day reporting center opened. But he echoed Owen's sentiment that the center's existence is a necessity and said it represents a net gain, because the county can only do so much with the resources available.

He said that, although the county has an obligation to provide services to all its residents, it has limited funding and a "further obligation to those under our jurisdiction for criminal justice." He also said the county's reentry services were currently focused on county probation only and not state parole.

According to Blue, state-funded reentry programs in the Bay Area previously were only in Alameda and San Francisco counties. "We actually see it — to that extent — as a plus that they're putting resources here."

Robert Rogers, district coordinator for Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia, said it's not within the county's jurisdiction to weigh in on the state's operational decisions. He added that, because day reporting activities are required by the CDCR, it's better that the resource is located locally and accessible to residents.

However, there are questions about why nonprofits weren't hired to take on the job instead of GEO Group.

Isaacs is skeptical of Blue and Rogers' assertions. "Is the state of California going to invest these funds in the service providers that are best equipped to provide the highest quality or to the company that is best positioned to lobby them for their contract?" she asked.

Katcher added that a fundamental reason for why private corporations have filled the demand for reentry services rather than nonprofit organizations like Root & Rebound concerns the current systemic issues in both government and philanthropy. She believes that without a robust, statewide reentry services infrastructure implemented by the state, a collaboration with reentry experts and nonprofits who truly understand the work is nearly impossible. Because of the lack of "creativity or imagination" in government, most "bureaucrats just want to do the same thing every day; they don't want to change," said Katcher.

Consequently, nonprofit advocates work in silos resulting in fragmented strategies and limited resources, making it very challenging for them to compete for a large contract like CDCR's multi-location, multi-year day reporting center deal with GEO Group.

Additionally, much of the attention on reentry is on the policy level rather than on-the-ground services. Katcher explained that she and her team are in constant talks with private funders and foundations to invest in Root & Rebound's reentry work, but conversations usually end with funders interested in policy reform only.

"We have more people than ever coming out," said Katcher, referring to formerly incarcerated people. "There's a huge amount of money going into policy reform across the state and across the country, and we have corporations filling the void of reentry."

According to state records, GEO was one of only two bidders that responded to CDCR's request-for-proposals process. The other bidder, Leader in Community Alternatives, is also a for-profit corporation. Isaacs said that GEO Reentry had a serious advantage during RFPs because its financial resources allow the company to respond efficiently.

"They have this cookie-cutter contract language or response to RFP language that they can just send out," Isaacs said. "They're incredibly agile that way."

When asked about partnering with a private corporation instead of a community-based nonprofit to run the day reporting centers, CDCR's Khokhobashvili said every bidder is carefully considered during the bidding process and is assessed by its qualifications, as well as the needs of the parolee population.

"We do definitely take local and nonprofit efforts into consideration and do use them, but ultimately, we have to look at who's going to provide the most effective treatment while also taking into consideration the needs of our population."

Khokhobashvili said that there are many factors to consider when deciding who to award the contracts to, including security capabilities, scale, and evidence-based programming.

She also stressed that cost was a big factor. Though she named a handful of nonprofits that CDCR has partnered with for reentry services, she acknowledged that private companies have generally been winning most of the contracts.

"Private companies can generally handle a larger number [of parolees] and in more locations, so it's pretty common that they run some our larger programs," she explained.

Nevertheless, criminal justice advocates like Brown, Isaacs, and Katcher are concerned with the intensive, continued supervision. In Richmond, many formerly incarcerated people are young Black and Brown men, so they worry that CDCR's partnership with a correctional-based corporation is an extension of the injustice the populations have historically faced.

"Really, what you're doing is: Instead of alternatives to incarceration, they're creating alternative forms of incarceration," Isaacs said.


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