Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Elderly parolees get help in reintegrating - The Denver Post

Elderly parolees get help in reintegrating - The Denver Post

By the time Habe Lawson was released from prison in 2002, he had spent 50 years incarcerated. He was too old to start over but too young to just fade away.

"It can be a living hell living on the streets," said Lawson, now 73. "You feel alone. At one point, I asked my parole officer to send me back to prison."

As the population of incarcerated Coloradans ages, elderly parolees such as Lawson are increasingly common, and they have special needs.

To address such needs, the Department of Corrections funnels most of the seniors to parole officers with special skills. One is Mike Montez.

"I've seen a lot of longtime offenders," he said. "They're wondering about their role in society. Panic sets in. They look to us to solve problems."

Safety is still the top priority, but ending the cycle of recidivism has become a bigger focus under Gov. Bill Ritter than ever before, said Tim Hand, Colorado's deputy director of parole.

"It's really become a specialty type of job," Hand said, adding that the Denver area has 144 parolees over the age of 60.

Older parolees often have extensive medical problems — some, such as hepatitis C, acquired from a lifetime of risky behavior. In addition to the fact that they're ex-cons, their age and physical condition limit employment options. They have limited experience with technology such as e-mail and the Internet. Transportation and housing offer additional challenges.

Time for transitions

The process of transitioning them to the community starts before an inmate is released, said Heather Salazar, the DOC's offender-programs manager. Prison caseworkers identify special needs of offenders and pass that information on to parole officers and re-entry specialists.

The officers line up services for parolees for felon-friendly subsidized housing. The offenders can enroll in employment- preparation classes, where they learn to use computers.

Some elderly offenders went to prison when resumes were done on typewriters. The DOC has a computer lab at regional parole offices where they can get help writing resumes and receive free work gloves, backpacks, winter coats and food boxes.

They can also obtain mental- health, medical and disability assistance, Salazar said. She said numerous nonprofit groups provide bus tickets, housing and job placement.

The officers do mock interviews and show how to use a debit card and set up voice mail on cellphones.

"If someone is skittish about computers, we'll walk them through the process," Salazar said. "A big barrier for them is technology."

When Lawson, who in the 1970s shot two police officers and killed a man, was released to a halfway house in 2002, he had to learn how to use a computer to apply for a job at a sandwich shop.

"To this day, I feel like a dinosaur," he said. "It's easy to feel so lost. Even taking buses was a problem."

For example, he once threw away the slip of paper he got when he purchased bus fare, thinking it was a receipt. He hadn't realized it was a transfer, so he had to buy a new ticket to get to his destination.

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