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Successful Parole Program in Colorado Appears to be 86'ed Without Clements

A one-of-a-kind parole program in Colorado that boasts an otherworldly 98%-success rate now faces an uncertain future without Tom Clements—the former Colorado DOC chief who was murdered in 2013—advocating for the program and the prisoners who need it.

Since its launch in 2011, the Long-Term Offender Program (LTOP)—which helps middle-aged and elderly prisoners who have served decades-long sentences transition back into society—has graduated 48 parolees through the program. Just one of them, reportedly, has returned to prison to date, and for a technical violation of his release conditions rather than a new crime.

But according to supporters of the program, including LTOP's volunteer mentors—many of whom are ex-convicts themselves—LTOP stopped receiving new candidates months ago, and they've not been given a reason why.

"After the death of Tom Clements, things changed dramatically and strangely," said LTOP mentor Daryl Ziglar. "So many people were on board with this program, and then things just went south."

LTOP was designed to prep longtime prisoners for re-entry, first in a special unit at the state's Sterling prison. There, the prisoners in the program learned everything from job interviewing skills to using an ATM or the Internet.

Then, after their release, the parolees were assigned to mentors on the street. And not just anyone willing, but mentors who could relate to what they were going through: ex-convicts, like them, who had served long sentences and struggled to convince their communities to give them a legitimate second chance.

"If there ever was a program that was needed, it was LTOP," said Habe Lawson, another volunteer mentor and ex-convict. "Before, there was a void— you come into prison lost, you're lost when you leave. This was for guys so institutionalized that they were practically vegetables. They had no hope of making it on the outside. But Clements was progressively oriented. He saw the need, and he was a good administrator for this program."

Clements' successor Rick Raemisch is purportedly in favor of continuing Clements' reforms, including reducing the use of solitary confinement in Colorado's prisons, which just a few years ago were among the worst abusers of solitary in the country.

But a DOC spokesperson told Denver's Westword that Raemisch wants to incorporate LTOP into DOC's "presumptive parole" process and expand LTOP to work in closer collaboration with the state's parole board.

According to many of the program's mentors, that would automatically disqualify many offenders with violent convictions from using the program and, essentially, kill LTOP.

"My own personal belief is that this is all political within DOC," said Greg Wells, an ex-convict who was sentenced to life with parole, went through LTOP, and is now working in the community. "For every fifteen of us who come out, at a bare minimum DOC saves a million dollars a year. Why wouldn't you want to keep that going?

"LTOP is a perfect example of what Mr. Raemisch has been talking about as his top priority," Wells added, "which is not creating any more victims."


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