Republican candidate for Colorado governor Walker Stapleton, who has suggested he’d strip funding from public schools and instead increase funding for prisons, recently took the maximum campaign contribution from a prison contractor whose company has provoked lawsuits and riots due to mistreatment of inmates.
Stapleton first suggested reducing public school funding and funneling it into the prison system at a debate during his 2010 run for state treasurer, where he said “We’re already spending too much unchecked money as it is on education… This is money that could be used for corrections services.”
Stapleton also told the Canon City Daily Record in 2010 that as treasurer, he’d advocate for the repeal of Amendment 23, a landmark education funding initiative that required the state to increase per-pupil funding on a yearly basis to keep up with inflation.
“It’s time education competes for funds,” said Stapleton. “I will allow prisons to compete and ultimately be funded by precious tax money.”
Despite recent statements from Republicans apparently aiming to make Stapleton appeal to the increasingly obvious majority of Americans who support a better-funded education system, the gubernatorial candidate has presented himself as an opponent to public education during his current campaign.
In fact, Stapleton brought up the subject in his very first campaign ad in which he touted his opposition to a tax increase that would have benefited public schools.
“As Colorado’s treasurer I stopped the largest tax increase in state history,” said Stapleton in reference to Amendment 66, which would have invested $1 billion dollars in K-12 public education. (As FOX31 pointed out in a “Truth Check” segment, this statement is misleading, given that the measure was defeated by Colorado voters, not Stapleton.)
And, in July of this year, Stapleton agreed with a radio host who said public preschool and full-day kindergarten programs, such as Head Start, “aren’t about learning” but rather are just “free daycare.”
Now, Stapleton is taking campaign donations from a prison executive.
According to campaign finance documents filed on July 2, Stapleton received $1,150 – the maximum campaign contribution amount – from Mandy Dowson, whose company provoked riots and lawsuits after reportedly creating abysmal living conditions for inmates in Colorado and across the country.
Dowson is the Senior Vice President of Continuous Improvement at TKC Holdings, which holds two companies that supply prisons with food and other items, one of which is Trinity Services Group. Prior to her current position at TKC Holdings, Dowson served as an executive with Trinity Services Group, according to her LinkedIn profile.
If Stapleton does become Colorado’s governor and successfully pushes his policy of funneling more money into the prison system, Dowson could benefit financially.
Damning local reports published over the past couple of years appear to show that Trinity Services Group profits off of providing inmates with scarce and inadequate nutrition.
According to an expansive report in the Colorado Springs Independent, rioting ensued after the El Paso County Jail switched food vendors and began using Trinity Services Group in September of 2016.
Inmates reported losing between 10 and 30 pounds following the switch due to insufficient portion sizes, according to the Colorado Springs Independent. At least 400 complaints regarding the food were filed by prisoners in a matter of months, in which prisoners said that portion sizes are inadequate, that they’re regularly served rotting food, and that those with dietary restrictions are not accommodated.
In one complaint, a Muslim inmate threatened to sue after being denied halal meals. On another occasion, an inmate was rushed to the hospital after becoming violently ill from eating tainted celery.
Jail staff even began to advocate on behalf of the inmates, and raised concerns to their supervisors that the lack of food was creating frustration among inmates and giving rise to what they called a “sketchy” atmosphere that could pose a security risk.
In an email obtained by the Colorado Springs Independent, a lieutenant notified a commander that a sack lunch given to a prisoner contained nothing but a “small little roll and four carrots. That’s it!”
Meanwhile, the officers’ dining room reportedly remains stocked with fresh fruit, pasta, fries, sandwiches, and a variety of desserts.
In Jan. of this year, over two dozen inmates at the Park County Jail filed a class action lawsuit against Trinity Services Group, alleging denial of privileges.
Other states have raised alarm to the company’s abuses as well. Inmates in Georgia prisons that contract with Trinity Services Group have reportedly resorted to licking syrup packets and eating toothpaste to combat hunger.
The Stapleton campaign didn’t return an email requesting comment.