EDITORIAL: Aurora needs facts about the GEO prison — political shams won’t provide them


We agree with Aurora Councilman Dave Gruber and others that Aurora needs to cull facts from fiction surrounding the privately-run GEO immigrant prison that is increasingly becoming a prominent part of the community.

Gruber, however, is not the one to handle or even take part in that important task.

The GEO immigration center houses “detainees” picked up by federal immigration police and held until some legal disposition about detainees’ residency is settled. Some of the inmates are deported. Some are released. The center has been operating in Aurora for decades.

And for almost as long as the GEO group has been the contracting operator for the prison, there have been protests and vigils regularly held there. Some of the protests have been held to shine a light on what critics say are dangerous or abhorrent conditions inside the Aurora facility. Other protests draw attention to the plight of immigrants here and across the country.

Since President Donald Trump took office, increasingly, protests at the Aurora prison have targeted the administration’s inept, cruel and inhumane treatment of immigrants taken as prisoners, primarily along the Mexico border.

Just like Second Amendment rights protesters gather at the state Capitol to draw attention to their cause, savvy adults understand that places can become magnets for protests by their very nature.

Gruber and a growing community of Twitter trolls and vocal Trump extremists seem befuddled by that and are trying to conflate a variety of issues in an effort to distract the public from serious problems at GEO.

In public comments and those published as commentary in the online Colorado Sun, Gruber said criticisms about treatment of children and prisoners at the Aurora prison are “fiction.”

What’s fiction is that no public officials we’re aware of having ever said children are held or abused inside the Aurora facility. No local public official we’re aware of has ever said that inmates here drink from toilets.

Aurora Congressman Jason Crow and others have repeatedly been critical of the Aurora GEO facility for being secretive and opaque about the treatment and conditions of prisoners held there. The non-partisan and independent Congressional Accounting Office issued a report about real deficiencies at the Aurora GEO prison. The Tri-County Health Department and state officials detailed to Sentinel Colorado how the Aurora GEO facility either mishandled infectious disease cases or failed to accurately report them.

The facility has been under fire from a variety of sources for providing inadequate medical care and for forcing some prisoners to provide custodial services for $1 a day.

This is not a government facility. It is a privately-owned, for-profit jail that contracts space and services with the federal government. Tax dollars provide substantial profits to shareholders. Crow and local officials, however, have been met with an inability to force transparency onto how this facility is operated, because it is a private company.

It should not exist as such.

We would hope that Gruber understands that a brief and limited, pre-planned tour of the facility — in which he was not allowed to speak with inmates, examine records, interview staff — is not a substitute for independent examination of this facility when operators are expecting tourists — and when they are not.

Gruber and others may be satisfied by brief planned excursions. We’re appreciative that many others are not.

Last week, GEO officials unethically inserted themselves into Aurora’s election process by inviting the city’s five mayoral candidates to attend a scheduled tour of the facility.

It’s clear GEO officials hoped to influence the next figurehead of the city’s government with the tour and make inroads through the election process to get favorable treatment. The event was a public relations and lobbying stunt and only serves to draw more doubt on GEO’s priority, transparency and operations.

This Trump-wellian scheme has made clear that residents in Aurora, and the metro community, need frank, honest and accurate information about the GEO facility. The clear attempt by Gruber and others to confuse and misdirect voters needs to be countered with a professional, trustworthy investigation led by congressional, state and Aurora officials now, not later.