The Colorado Department of Corrections’ parole operations are an essential component of the state prison system. Paroled prisoners are transitioning from the confines of state penitentiaries to becoming productive, non-threatening members of their communities and the process requires close supervision, treatment and monitoring. The process is not cheap, and its importance must not be overlooked. Gov. John Hickenlooper’s proposal to increase funding for parole by $10 million in the coming fiscal year rightly recognizes this critical function.
The governor’s proposal comes on the heels of an audit by the National Institute of Corrections released in August. That review, which the state requested after Colorado Department of Corrections Executive Director Tom Clements was killed by a fugitive parolee, recommended that the state invest in improving its system. Specifically, the audit suggested that the state “Reduce the number of institutional moves of offenders; expand community services and programs for parolees; develop a meaningful individual case plan that follows the offender from incarceration through parole (and) define protocols for electronic monitoring,” according to The Denver Post. Each of these efforts requires adequate personnel, and while the same report found that the state’s parole officers faced overwhelming caseloads, it did not specifically recommend adding new officers.
Hickenlooper’s proposal closely follows the audit’s recommendations, but also calls for additional parole officer hires. That is an important inclusion, along with funding to help homeless parolees, those who need treatment – including help for substance abusers and sex offenders – officer training, new electronic-monitoring equipment, and a revamp of how case plans are crafted – from the time inmates enter prison to completion of their parole.
These are critical components to a functional parole system and Hickenlooper is right to push for adequate funding to support them. Paroled inmates are living in communities, and require access to the resources required to ensure they are successful in re-entering society after serving state prison terms. That is important for individual parolees, to be sure, but it is also vitally important to community safety. With poorly crafted plans, insufficient staff members and lacking treatment resources, parolees’ success and community safety is compromised. That is a formula for bad outcomes on all fronts. Clements’ murder is a dramatic and tragic example of just how bad those results can be.
The Colorado Department of Corrections must be given the resources to rehabilitate those inmates it deems worthy of releasing into the state’s communities – as well as re-evaluate those who prove they cannot safely live outside prison walls. Doing so requires significant resources, starting with enough parole officers – and those properly trained – to manage their caseloads for maximum community safety.
Hickenlooper’s proposal is a welcome recognition of the parole department’s challenges and shortcomings. His commitment to investing in the system is an essential component to ensuring community safety and supporting parolees’ re-entry into their communities. The Legislature should support Hickenlooper’s proposal to increase resources for the Colorado Department of Corrections’ parole system.