DENVER — Colorado corrections personnel have become doubly wary of parole and parolees in recent years. They are avoiding releasing many prisoners on parole and quickly revoking parole for minor violations. The result is that spending has soared, according to lawmakers here who are slated to add more than $60 million to the corrections budget.
“The parole system is not working as it should,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village. “It’s not rehabilitating prisoners. It’s catching them out and then sending them back to prison.
“The problem has gone up enormously since Tom Clements’ death,” he said.
Corrections Chief Clements was assassinated in 2013 by Evan Ebel, a disturbed convict released directly onto the streets from years spent in solitary confinement. The sensational murder threw the state prison and parole system in Colorado under the spotlight for national media and watchdog groups to examine.
The Colorado Board of Parole’s annual report to state budget writers appears to support Kagan’s concern about what some here are calling the “Ebel effect.” In the year after the murder, the rate of discretionary parole dipped and the rate of parole revocations, particularly for offenders who “absconded” or weren’t where they said they’d be, jumped.
Adrienne Jacobson at the Department of Corrections said the figures for offenders granted discretionary release are a little more complicated than they appear due to reforms in the community corrections system.
“There’s an additional 1,247 offenders who were granted a discretionary release, but they don’t count in the [totals] until they actually hit the ground,” she said. “They have to go through a community corrections program first.”
Jacobson said this new “presumptive parole” program began in the summer of 2013 and gives offenders in residential programs the promise of parole on the one-year anniversary of their successful enrollment in a community corrections facility. When offenders in transitional programs are factored into parole calculations, the discretionary release rate jumps from 15 percent in 2014 to 22 percent, more in line with previous trends.
“If you take that overall figure, we’re still granting the same number of discretionary releases,” Jacobson said. “We just have an additional tool where we can divert some of these offenders and help them get established in community first.”
Jacobson acknowledged a major up-swing in parole being revoked for “technical violations,” which means an offender has not committed a new crime but has failed to meet the terms of their parole — often limitations on their movement or mandatory substance abuse treatment.
Jacobson said that increase is due to a concerted effort to catch more parole absconders through the Fugitive Apprehension Unit, an elite unit the department proposed and the state legislature funded in the wake of Clements’s murder.
Ebel, who posed as pizza delivery man and shot Clements at the door to his home, was an absconder. He cut off his ankle monitor to distract his parole officer while he planned and executed the murder. In part due to the activities of the Fugitive Apprehension Unit, the rate of parole absconder apprehensions jumped 10 percent between 2012 and 2014.
Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, who serves on the legislative budget committee, expressed concern about this year’s bump in the Corrections budget. He said that, although lots of factors contribute to the cost of Corrections, including reforms like offering more mental health services, the primary driver is prison populations, which continue to grow in part due to parole practices.
“The Parole Board is a bottleneck and the Community Corrections Boards are a bottleneck,” said Steadman. “Between the two of them, they drive a lot of costs.”