Letter urges closing of CoreCivic detention facility

John Richmeier
The Leavenworth Times

Representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union and federal public defenders are urging county commissioners to not allow a privately-run prison to remain open in Leavenworth.

A 10-page letter sent to commissioners and the White House argues the CoreCivic Leavenworth Detention Center is "dangerously understaffed, poorly managed, and incapable of safely housing its detainee population." The letter urges immediate action to ensure the facility ceases operation by the end of the year.

Ryan Gustin, director of public affairs for CoreCivic, called allegations made in the letter "false and defamatory."

The Leavenworth Detention Center houses inmates who are awaiting trial in the federal court system.

CoreCivic has a contract with the U.S. Marshals Service to house the inmates at the Leavenworth Detention Center. But that contract is scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

President Joe Biden has issued an executive order directing the U.S. Department of Justice not to renew contracts with privately-run detention facilities. The Marshals Service is an agency of the Justice Department.

Earlier this year, representatives of Tennessee-based CoreCivic visited Leavenworth County commissioners with a proposal for the county government to contract with the U.S. Marshals Service as a way to keep the local facility open.

Commissioners voted to notify the company that they are not interested in pursuing the proposal. The company has asked commissioners to reconsider their decision.

A letter was sent last week to all five Leavenworth County commissioners, County Administrator Mark Loughry and the White House Domestic Policy Counsel Office. It was sent on behalf of the legal directors of the ACLU chapters for Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa as well as federal public defenders from those states and Criminal Justice Act panel representatives.

The letter argues the Leavenworth Detention Center has "been the site of extreme and increasing violence" during the last year. The letter points to reports of various incidents of violence at the facility including a recent homicide.

The letter argues that ceasing operations at the facility will "protect the health and safety of those incarcerated there."

Gustin said in a written statement that allegations made in the letter are "designed to exert political pressure rather than to serve as an objective assessment of the work our dedicated LDC staff has done to serve the needs of the United States Marshals Service."

"We’ve partnered with them at LDC for the last three decades under a number of presidential administrations, including both Democrats and Republicans," he said in the statement.

County Commission Chairman Mike Smith said there has been talk of CoreCivic officials going in a different direction or possibly presenting a new plan regarding the Leavenworth Detention Center.

Smith said commissioners will listen to what CoreCivic officials have to say if they return to the County Commission.

"But we don't have anything in front of us," Smith said.

The chairman expressed concern about placing the county in a position in which it could be targeted for lawsuits related to the Leavenworth Detention Center.

Smith said he read the letter that was sent to commissioners last week regarding the facility.

"When I see a letter like that of course I'm going to read it," he said.

Smith said the letter brought up things he previously heard about. But he said prisons are dangerous places.

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