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Senate Bill 241: Is Colorado ready to fix parole's revolving door?

Over the years, we've written frequently about the breakdowns in Colorado's parole system -- how heaping mandatory parole on top of prison sentences and making ill-prepared felons jump through multiple hoops drives up prison costs. Now there finally seems to be some serious efforts among lawmakers to do something about it.

Two bills kicking around the Colorado Senate would, if passed, have a profound effect on the way the state deals with parole. Senate Bill 257 would scrap the mandatory parole system and restore discretionary parole -- which technically still exists, but the Parole Board almost never grants someone so-called early parole. The proposed overhaul is so audacious, and so vulnerable to fear-mongering "public safety" arguments, that it probably doesn't stand a chance.

But Senate Bill 241, sponsored by Morgan Carroll and Steve King and scheduled for a hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Wednesday afternoon, is a different story. It's a thoughtful, money-saving and temperate effort to address several wayward aspects of the current system without trashing it altogether, from the composition of the Parole Board to the handling of illegal immigrants taking up space in state prisons.

Current law requires that two of the seven Parole Board members have law enforcement backgrounds and that 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. SB 241 would require a wider array of criminal justice backgrounds, including folks who know something about offender re-entry issues and victim advocacy, and institute additional training.

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Among other innovations, the bill would also make it easier to get foreign-born prisoners with an immigration detainer out of the system and into the deportation process; there are currently close to 1,500 such prisoners in Colorado, costing taxpayers millions for their bed and board. It would also provide an avenue for granting "special needs" parole to a handful of prisoners who pose little risk to the public but are racking up staggering medical costs, such as paraplegic Darrell Havens; 26 such offenders cost the state nearly $4 million in catastrophic medical coverage in a single six-month period.

Get additional details in this analysis prepared by the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition.

More from our Follow That Story archive: "Throwing the book at parole."

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