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Prison system needs improved monitoring, "change of culture," new chief says

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The Colorado Department of Corrections doesn't adequately train parole officers overseeing the electronic monitoring of high-risk parolees -- such as absconder Evan Ebel, who murdered DOC director Tom Clements and another man this year -- and needs to develop more consistent and comprehensive programs for treating and tracking offenders headed for release. Those are among the conclusions of two studies nveiled today by Governor John Hicklenlooper and new DOC director Rick Raemisch, who called for a "culture change" within the agency.

Raemisch praised the National Institute of Corrections reports -- one on general offender management policies and one focusing on electronic monitoring -- saying that they "show us a direction we should be going in.... If we're effective in doing this, everybody wins."

DOC's electronic monitoring policies have been under close scrutiny since the murder of Clements, which came after Ebel disabled his electronic ankle bracelet. No parole officer responded to the alert caused by that action for six days; the NIC reports suggest that officers aren't sufficiently trained in distinguishing the seriousness of different alerts and that too much discretion is placed with individual parole officers in determining the criteria for electronic monitoring. Raemisch indicated that some disciplinary action had been taken as a result of the incident but declined to provide details. "I can't get into personnel matters," he said. "That problem has been rectified."

Raemisch also acknowledged that, prior to his arrival, some decisions about whether inmates ended up on what's known as Intensive Supervised Parole (ISP) were apparently influenced by budget considerations, a practice he described as unacceptable. "If there is a person being taken off ISP for fiscal reasons only, that's wrong," he said. "That seemed to be uniform across the division."

Although most of the attention at today's presser was on the Clements murder, the problems outlined in the reports extend far beyond parole monitoring. The DOC lags behind many states in not developing a "unified case plan" for individual inmates that stays with them throughout the system; Raemisch vowed it would be a top priority now. Among other issues:

  • Case managers complain of being a "dumping ground" for all sorts of tasks, limiting the time they can spend on individual parole plans and overwhelming them with a case load of more than a hundred inmates per case manager.
  • Mental health case loads are as many as 120 per professional at some prisons.
  • Inmates are moved from one prison to another out of bed-space concerns rather than program needs.
  • Pre-release programs that can help prepare an inmate for release and lower recidivism rates are available to less than 20 percent of the eligible inmates.
  • The list goes on, but even tackling those deficiencies would go a long way toward making the parole process safer. Raemisch acknowledged that better use of electronic monitoring technology is only one of the challenges his department is facing: "It's a tool in the toolbox. It's not something that's going to solve all our problems."

    More from our Follow That Story archive: "Evan Ebel's feces-smeared prison records and straw-purchase controversy."

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