The Denver Post
Colorado's parole officers are reaching out to prisoners in solitary confinement as they're released from prison, and every prison will have a dedicated parole officer to work with offenders, corrections officials said Wednesday.
Executive director of corrections Rick Raemisch and his executive staff on Wednesday unveiled their reform plans for the state's troubled parole system during a hearing of the joint Judiciary Committee.
Raemisch said his team is still working on overhauling the rules for solitary confinement, also called administrative segregation, but he already is pushing changes.
"The program that we are putting in place now will put us, I think, at the forefront of the nation," Raemisch said.
Parole officers have begun picking up prisoners when they are released on parole from solitary confinement, he said. Those high-level parolees, who during their prison terms were deemed too dangerous to live with other prisoners, are then taken directly to their assigned parole officer for immediate supervision, he said.
In the past, the onus was on newly released prisoners to find their parole office. Raemisch added that he also has begun requiring some prison staffers to spend an hour in solitary confinement just so they can get an idea of what it is like.
Community bulletin alerts also will go out to law enforcement agencies when a prisoner is released straight from administrative segregation to parole, Raemisch added.
Twenty-two parole officers will staff all prisons beginning in the fiscal year that starts in July, he said. They will help offenders obtain food stamps and identification cards, and find work and housing.
"All this stuff should be done before they get out of prison," Raemisch said. "We need that strong case- management contact with parole officers before they get out."
How parolees fare during their first two weeks goes a long way toward determining whether they'll succeed or fail, he said.
The changes in policy follow the slaying of former corrections chief Tom Clements in March, allegedly by a parolee who had spent years of his prison term in administrative segregation.
The Denver Post reported in September that more than 100 prisoners were released straight from solitary confinement to parole in the past year. The Post also found that Colorado parolees have committed new crimes including murder, used drugs and disappeared for months without getting sent back to prison.
The number of prisoners in solitary has dropped to 662 in September from 1,505 two years ago, or 3.9 percent of the overall prisoner population compared with 7 percent in 2011.
Steve Hager, interim director of parole, testified that improvements have been made since the newspaper's reports.
He said a backlog in risk assessments for parolees identified by The Post has been eliminated. Hager said supervisors now are doing timely audits of parole officer casework.
Corrections officials also are reviewing intensive supervision standards and electronic monitoring rules, and are monitoring the results of a new fugitive unit that rounds up parole absconders, Hager said.
Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed increasing funding for parole by $10 million next year, a 25 percent boost, to bring total annual spending to $49.4 million. Raemisch said he is still developing plans for how to spend that new money and is waiting for results of a study on parole officer staffing to make final recommendations.
House Minority Leader Mark Waller, a Republican from Colorado Springs, expressed skepticism about whether the proposed $10 million spending increase is needed. He said Raemisch could have told legislators during legislative hearings in September that more money was needed, but he didn't back then.
"I was left with the impression that more dollars weren't necessary to enhance public safety," Waller said during Wednesday's committee meeting.
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, December 12, 2013
The Denver Post