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Melissa Starr, vice president of Field Operations at Sentinel Offender Services, gives tours to law enforcement and guests during the grand opening of the Day Reporting Center in Las Vegas on Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Officials on the Nevada Board of Examiners have approved a contract with a company best known for running ICE detention centers, but company representatives emphasized that their work in Nevada to run post-prison Day Reporting Centers will have nothing to do with immigrant detention.

The board, which includes Democrats Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford, approved a two-year, $1.8 million contract with GEO Reentry on Tuesday, with the state having the option of returning in two years to request another two years of funding. The company is a subsidiary of GEO Group, which has been a lightning rod over detention conditions for immigrants, prompting some banks to refuse to do business with them.

After about 10 minutes of questions from the governor on whether the company would be working with ICE and whether approving the contract would run afoul of legislation banning private prison companies from providing core correctional services in Nevada, the board voted to approve the agreement. Ford said he was satisfied with the answers he got that the centers would advance criminal justice reform.

“The governor has indicated obviously it's a focus of his, it's been a focus of mine since I was in the Legislature, and so proud to support this,” Ford said.

Day Reporting Centers are sites where people who have left prison — or those in danger of parole revocation because of a “technical” violation of their parole conditions — can have more interaction with parole and probation staff and get resources including toiletries, anger management classes and training on how to improve their moral decision-making skills.

Asked by Sisolak whether the contract would be providing any state resources or programming for ICE detention facilities or services, Rachel Kienzler, regional director of business development at GEO Reentry, said no. 

“We operate over 60 of these across the country. None of them do that,” she said. “Day Reporting Centers are the antithesis of a secure private or public prison.”

Ann Carpenter of the Division of Parole and Probation said she doesn’t “foresee any issue between the state, the division or ICE detention facilities.”

“The day reporting center is not a detention center or a live-in facility,” she added.

GEO Reentry was one of three companies to bid for the contract, state officials said. Currently, vendor Sentinel runs Nevada’s centers, and Carpenter said state employees weren’t able to provide the services themselves.

“The purpose of the Day Reporting Centers is to change the behavior of this population and so the division does not have the skills or resources or expertise to facilitate and organize all of our community partners, to be able to provide specific training such as cognitive behavioral treatment, substance abuse, counseling, life skills that kind of thing,” she said. “So, the basic premise that we want to change behavior correct criminal thinking and reduce recidivism and this partner helps us do that.”

GEO Group has come under fire for its role running private prisons — a system that critics say profits off punishment and creates a financial incentive to keep people incarcerated. GEO Group’s website lists 68 “secure facilities” in the U.S., including numerous ICE detention centers, and has received nearly half a billion in contracts from ICE since President Donald Trump took office, according to Axios.

Several major banks have committed to cutting ties with GEO Group amid pressure from activists who oppose immigration detention. But GEO officials defended their work, saying in a statement to The Nevada Independent in December that they have more than 25 years of experience and use effective, comprehensive methods for programs including Day Reporting Centers.

“Our vast experience is one of many reasons we were selected to provide services in Nevada,” the company said in an emailed statement. “GEO Reentry’s programs significantly improve public safety, increase return on taxpayer investment, and support each individual’s successful transition.”

Critics say private companies providing re-entry services have a financial incentive to put a higher number of people under some type of correctional control, rather than allowing them the lowest possible level of surveillance.

Updated at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 18, 2020 to clarify term and size of contract.

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