We understand where Jerry Garner is coming from.
Greeley’s top cop is concerned that convicted criminals, being paroled from prison, will be making their way back to Greeley and restarting their life of crime. He cites an increase in the number of parolees being released into Weld County.
Last year, 16 parolees were released back into Weld County in February. This year, the number of parolees was 37.
It’s a Catch-22 Greeley and every community in the state finds itself in. The state has to release parolees, not only because the parole board has deemed them safe to return to society, but because it simply can’t keep prisoners forever. The state prison system is expensive to operate, and budget cuts might mean the closing of some state prison facilities.
According to the Colorado Department of Corrections, the average cost of housing an inmate is $32,339 per year. As of the end of December 2010, the department reported it is housing 22,274 inmates. That’s roughly $720 million annually in taxpayer dollars going to keep people in prison.
DOC spokeswoman Katherine Senguinetti said the department is not releasing more parolees than normal and parole officers are managing cases effectively.
What’s difficult to determine is what Garner is predicting: that many of these parolees will commit new crimes. It is, of course, impossible to know which, if any, of the parolees will re-offend, but some likely will.
In 2009, 6.1 percent of adults were terminated from probation because they committed a new crime, according to a joint report from the Division of Probation Services, the State Court Administrator’s Office and the Colorado Judicial Branch. That was a slight decrease from the 6.3 percent reported in 2008.
The same report found that 6.7 percent of convicted criminals released from probation were charged with new crimes in 2009.
For some crimes, recidivism rates are much higher. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 48.4 percent of males convicted of sexual assault nationwide will be re-arrested within three years of release.
Paroling inmates is part of our judicial system. When it’s deemed that prisoners have served their time, and can safely be released, then they are. This makes room in the prisons for newly sentenced criminals.
Parolees have to go somewhere. Many return to where they came from. The more people from Weld County we convict of crimes, the more that will eventually return after they are paroled. That is just a fact of life.
While we understand Garner’s concerns, there simply isn’t a way we can close the gates and keep out all parolees.
And frankly, it seems overly pessimistic to believe they will all be a danger to the community. Some will probably go on to lead law-abiding, productive lives. Others will undoubtedly commit crimes.
We know this might create a challenge for law enforcement, but it’s also a reality they need to face. And as the state budget continues to be cut, it’s likely these challenges will only grow.
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
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.
Thursday, March 31, 2011