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John Hickenlooper stacks parole board with cops and familiar faces

We've noted in this space before before the tendency among Colorado governors to load up the state parole board with former Denver police officers, as if the job was essentially an $85,000-a-year private security gig. Judging from John Hickenlooper's new appointments to the board, that streak is very much alive.

On Wednesday, Governor Hickenlooper announced four fresh -- well, not so fresh -- faces for the board. They include Ed Thomas, a 23-year veteran of the Denver Police Department, former Denver city councilman and editor-in-chief of the Glendale Cherry Creek Chronicle; and Denise Balazic, a former Missouri parole officer and corrections specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice.

Thomas joins two other DPD pensioners on the board: John O'Dell (a thirty-year man) and Michael Anderson (33 years), as well as former Division of Youth Corrections employee Rebecca Oakes. The statute requries that two of the seven board members have law-enforcement backgrounds and one be a former parole or probation officer; in practice, the board has always been heavily stacked with ex-cops and Department of Corrections careerists. This is supposed to be a boon to public safety, but critics of the board have pushed for more diverse membership and different methods of evaluating parole applicants to correct the logjam of parole denials. The idea is that a more progressive group on the board could save millions in prison costs and get qualified inmates back to their families sooner.

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Mindful, perhaps, of the need to bring in other perspectives, Hickenlooper also appointed two mental health professionals to the board. One is Anthony Young, who previously served on the State Board of Parole and has worked in the forensic unit of the Colorado Mental Health Institute at Pueblo. The other is Pat Waak, a psychotherapist who also happens to be a former chair of the Colorado Democratic Party.

Something borrowed, something blue. Will it make any difference in the high failure rates of the state's antiquated parole process? Stay tuned.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Senate Bill 241: Is Colorado ready to fix parole's revolving door?"

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