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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)

Update 2:30 p.m. Dec. 10, 2019: This contract was pulled from the Board of Examiners’ Dec. 10 agenda by the Division of Parole and Probation. Gov. Steve Sisolak said after the meeting that there were “a lot more questions” to be answered about it.

Nevada may soon be entering a contract with one of the nation’s largest private prison operators to provide services to parolees.

The Board of Examiners, which includes Gov. Steve Sisolak and Attorney General Aaron Ford, is set to consider a $4.4 million contract on Tuesday with GEO Reentry Services, a subsidiary of controversial private prison operator GEO Group. The five-year contract involves running the state’s Day Reporting Centers — facilities offering more intensive supervision for people on parole and probation that can be used as an “intermediate sanction” in place of going to jail for people with minor violations of their parole terms.

“The key goal is to reduce recidivism and address criminogenic needs,” says a contract summary. “This program will contribute to the participant’s successful reintegration in becoming productive members in the community.”

The state currently contracts with Sentinel Offender Services to run Day Reporting Center facilities in Reno and Las Vegas that opened about two years ago. Sentinel’s other services include GPS monitoring and drug testing.

The Day Reporting Center offers a computer lab and classes on topics such as impulse control and job seeking. An independent study published earlier this year by UNLV researchers showed that participants in the center generally had better outcomes than those in a control group.

State documents show Sentinel was also invited to bid on the five-year contract, but GEO “was the highest scoring proposer as determined by an independently appointed evaluation committee.”

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.

GEO Group already operates a federal halfway house (the Las Vegas Community Correctional Center) in the state. The company is also hiring for three positions, including case manager, according to postings on its external jobs website. 

Nevada lawmakers have distanced themselves from private prison companies by passing a bill in 2019 requiring that, by mid-2022, “the core correctional services at each such prison must be performed only by employees of the State or a local government.” At a forum with The Nevada Independent in January, Sisolak said he thought banning private prisons was a good idea.

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 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.”

The potential partnership drew concern from the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) Action Fund, whose initiatives include a Mass Liberation Project aimed at reducing incarceration. 

“GEO Group should raise a red flag in everyone’s mind. They’ve contributed to President Trump’s heinous family separation policies and their professional and often cruel practices in their private prisons have prompted universities across the country to divest from both Geo Group and Core Civic,” Laura Martin, executive director of PLAN Action, said in an email. “Even New York City divested $48M of their pension fund from three private prison companies, including Geo Group, after public pressure and a report revealing 8 immigrant detainees has died the previous year in their care.” 

Critics say private prison companies, in response to growing criminal justice reform efforts, are rebranding and seeking out financial opportunities in the alternative correctional services sector. But their profit motives may drive overuse of such techniques.

“The pursuit of profit undermines the movement’s goals of shrinking the size and scope of the criminal punishment system,” says a 2016 report from the American Friends Service Committee. “While the best practices in the area of community corrections emphasize tailoring interventions to provide the lowest level of security or surveillance necessary for the shortest amount of time, the incentive for private prison companies is to ‘widen the net’ of people under ever-increasing levels of control.” 

Updated at 6:20 p.m. on Dec. 10, 2019 to add comment from GEO Group.

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