Prison Company Known for Scandals Opens New S.F. Facility

The Geo Group, which runs 104 prisons and other facilities around the country, is opening a new halfway house in SoMa.

(Dylan Goldberger)

One of the largest prison companies in the U.S. is opening a new halfway house in San Francisco.

The Geo Group, which runs 104 prisons and other facilities around the country, won a five-year, nearly $13 million state contract to run the re-entry center this month. Their new facility, at 139 Sixth St. in SoMa, is scheduled to open in February or March 2017 and will house up to 80 state inmates near the end of their prison sentences who will receive job training and counseling while they prepare to leave incarceration.

The state corrections department says the center, a former hotel, will be a powerful tool for helping former inmates transition back to normal life. But, in the past, other facilities in the Bay Area run by the same company have faced reports of sexual abuse of inmates.

The new facility will be part of the state’s Male Community Re-entry Program (MCRP), which allows inmates who pass a screening process to spend the last 180 days of their sentence in the re-entry facility instead of a state prison. Only people who will ultimately be released in the Bay Area will come to the S.F. facility.

Residents in the program wear ankle monitors at all times. When they first arrive, they stay inside, and they’re progressively given more opportunities to work and study outside.

This will be the state’s fifth MCRP program. The first facility opened in 2015 in Los Angeles, and other centers are in Bakersfield, Oroville, and San Diego. Most are also operated privately.

“The vast majority of people in prison are going to come home, whether you like it or not,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesperson Krissi Khokhobashvili says. “These facilities help ease that transition. There’s a built-in support system, and we’ve seen a lot of success with them.”

The Geo Group already operates two other re-entry facilities in the Bay Area: the Taylor Street Center in S.F.’s Tenderloin district, which houses state parolees and federal inmates, and the Oakland Center in Oakland, which houses federal inmates.

In 2014, as SF Weekly reported in September, an independent investigator who visited the two facilities to determine their compliance with the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act found that inmates at the Oakland Center had accused staff members of “sexual touching and voyeurism.” The report said one accused staff member was transferred to the Taylor Street Center, where they continued working with residents, which led to additional abuse allegations being filed. The investigator also noted extremely high levels of security staff turnover at the facilities, which she says had low pay rates for the Bay Area.

A Geo Group spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment about the new facility.

Other MCRP centers around the state have also experienced security issues: At least four residents have set off manhunts this year by leaving without permission. (All were apprehended within days. *See here, here, here, and here.)

According to its 192-page contract, the SoMa facility will operate through at least June 30, 2021. California will pay the company $48 to $60 per inmate per day, depending on the total population of the facility, as well as a fixed fee of $97,941.67 per month. The total cost for the program over the next four-and-a-half years will be up to nearly $13 million.

The contract requires the Geo Group to provide residents with “individualized small and/or group counseling, [and] substance use disorder counseling,” as well as “literacy, employment readiness, community survival skills, and housing assistance” programs. Each resident will receive a personal plan to help them reintegrate into society, the contract says.

The new facility is just the latest example of a nationwide trend of private prison companies diversifying into new sectors like inmate re-entry services. As scrutiny grows over abuses in private prisons, the companies are hoping new programs like the San Francisco facility will be a growth area in the future.

California-GEO Group contract for MCRP facility by caseytolan on Scribd

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