Colorado Parolees' Violent Crimes Attributed to DOC Ineptitude
By Joe Watson
It took the March 2013 murder of Tom Clements, then director of the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), to bring to light the ineptitude of the state's prisons and parole division.
In the wake of Clements' murder, allegedly committed by a paroled prison gang member, CDOC and its parole officers have been blasted for egregiously neglecting to prepare offenders for re-entry and failing to adequately monitor and support approximately 9,200 parolees under community supervision statewide.
An investigation by the Denver Post uncovered that Colorado prisoners— 97% of whom will eventually leave prison and return to society—receive substandard social, mental health, drug rehabilitation or vocational skills in prison. As a result, the Post reported, half of Colorado's parolees return to prison (the national average is 30%), and a high percentage of them—under the deficient supervision of the state's 223 parole officers—commit new crimes, including gruesomely violent murders.
The Post found that, since 2002, 38 murders are alleged to have been committed by 33 parolees, many of whom were on the streets even after being arrested for new crimes or violating their release conditions. Included among the victims are five people "slaughtered and burned" in the late-night armed robbery of a bar, an attorney who was sexually assaulted and killed, an elderly man strangled to death, and Clements, all of them murdered just in the past year.
According to the Post, a third of parolees have been released from prison homeless, while others, according to CDOC internal audits, have been left to relapse into drug or alcohol addiction, ignored by the system even after multiple failed drug tests or arrests.
In the last fiscal year, 110 prisoners—including Evan Ebel, Clements’ alleged killer—were released to Colorado's streets directly from solitary confinement, where they spent 23 hours a day in 8-by-10-foot cells because they were purportedly too violent to live among the general population.
More than half of the 33 parolees convicted or accused of murder since 2002 spent time in solitary confinement.
A report from the U.S. Justice Department's National Institute of Corrections, requested after Clements' murder, cited CDOC's failure to quickly identify prisoners' weaknesses and to treat them while they are incarcerated. In fact, a CDOC internal report published the month Clements was killed found that while 22,000 felony offenders needed substance abuse help in 2012, less than 2,400 actually received it.
The Post criticized CDOC for being "weak on reform and rehab for prisoners" and placing the onus of successful re-entry on parole officers, who are already supervising on average 69 parolees at once and, in many cases, working second jobs.
For five years until August 2013, when parole officers finally got a modest 2% raise to an average annual salary of $47,000, their pay had been frozen. With one-fifth of them taking on second jobs, the Post reported—and all of them allowed to work 40-hour weeks in four days rather than five- parole supervision became lax, at best.
Ebel was found to have met his release conditions for face-to-face contact with a parole officer just 58% of the time the month Clements was killed. And it took six days from the time Ebel removed a CDOC-mandated ankle monitor before a warrant was issued for his arrest.
In an apparent effort to save money, CDOC's parole division has placed 35% fewer parolees on intensive supervision in the past three years, even though the total parolee population has stayed mostly unchanged. Once on intensive supervision, parolees were regularly taken off for budgetary reasons, even though, according to the Post, spending per parolee rose 42% between 2004 and 2012 (to $6,351 per year).
In the Post's investigation, it found "a breakdown in the system" in nearly every murder tied to a parolee since 2002. For example, two parolees had been arrested for assaulting women they later murdered. Nine of the 33 had warrants out for their arrest but had not been picked up or were missing. A third of them had been released from prison homeless.
When the Post asked CDOC to discuss those cases, the department refused and redacted the names of parole officers and supervisors from files related to those cases.
"It would be difficult if not impossible to determine why certain decisions were made around incidents that occurred so far in the past," CDOC spokeswoman Alison Morgan said. "The policies and management philosophies were different, and many of the people involved have moved on."
New CDOC Director Rick Raemisch, hired this summer to replace Clements, has reportedly vowed to make changes, including keeping fewer prisoners in solitary confinement and making parole officers accountable for meeting parolees 1 rehab and employment needs. For many, reforms have been a long time coming.
"The tragic death of Tom Clements doesn't point to just one single issue that we have to deal with—there are a lot of problems that we have known about and have been trying to deal with," said Democratic state Rep. Claire Levy. "His untimely death just brought them into sharper focus."
Source: The Denver Post
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