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Josh Penry's fears about a plethora of parolees a big mythtake

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Josh Penry (pictured here) wasn't a happy man at the legislative hearing on parole policy December 8, and that's probably a good thing.

Penry, the Fruita Republican state senator who takes a back seat to no one in his tough-on-crime posturing, has been hollering about the supposedly alarming increase in early release, better known as discretionary parole, among state inmates under Governor Bill Ritter's watch -- the subject of my earlier blog, "Pandering Over Parole at the Statehouse." But a report prepared by the Colorado State Auditor's Office in response to Penry's concerns (available online here) shows no reason to man the barricades.

It turns out that many of the "early" releases were prisoners facing mandatory parole who got out a couple of days ahead of time in order to save the state some weekend transportation costs. Others were the result of reduced sentences for drug crimes, leading to quicker parole turnarounds. And the overall proportion of discretionary paroles has crawled from 32 percent in 2006 to 39 percent in 2008 -- scarcely more than the 38 percent back in 2004, when Penry's man, Bill Owens, was sitting in the governor's chair. The Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition has a nice account of the whole overhyped phenomenon here.

Of course, it saves the state money to get prisoners out on parole, assuming they don't commit new crimes. Rather than loading up on additional locks and weapons for every prisoner released, it might be more productive for lawmakers to take a closer look at why so many parolees wind up back in prison -- the hurdles and pitfalls that have made mandatory parole a miserable revolving door in Colorado, as explored in previous Westword coverage, including my 2006 feature, "Over and Over Again." Better yet, maybe it's time to consider why some of the least-likely-to-succeed parolees defy the odds and become productive citizens, such as Casey Holden -- subject of our blog series, "I Shall Be Released."

Now there's a trend worth studying. Anybody second the motion? Senator Penry? -- Alan Prendergast

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