Throwing the Book at Parole

Two-thirds of the 10,000 people released from Colorado prisons on parole this year will be back behind bars by 2010. Parole revocations now account for 37% of all prison admissions in the state, costing close to $80 million a year.

The reasons behind the staggering failure rate of parole have been explored in these pages several times, most recently in the 2006 feature "Over and Over Again" and our ongoing blog series about the progress of supermax parolee Casey Holden, "I Shall Be Released." The issue is more complicated than simply a lack of resources or job skills and has a lot to do with the bureaucratic mazes parolees have to negotiate to get a driver's license, find affordable housing and reliable work, pay restitution and fees, attend mandatory classes, and so on. A recent survey of parolees found that most felt depressed, overwhelmed and unprepared for their release; that's not surprising, considering that more than a third of the parolees in Denver also report that they're living in homeless shelters.

There's no magic fix to the problem, but the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition is working on it. Last night, the group threw a launch party for their long-awaited book, Getting On After Getting Out: A Re-Entry Guide for Colorado, by Carol Peeples and CCJRC executive director Christie Donner. Four years in the making, the comprehensive guide to services and resources is the first of its kind in Colorado and one of the few in the country aimed at helping parolees make it rather than spin endlessly through that costly revolving door. Just learning how to negotiate the halfway house hoops and tap into community aid organizations could have a dramatic effect on a parolee's chances, the authors say.

The launch party drew an impressive collection of state legislators, activists, Department of Corrections officials and overachieving ex-cons, but that's just the start. Donner says her group plans to flood the prison system with the book, sending it out on the "milk run" that delivers dairy products from correctional industries, and six thousand copies are headed for parole offices. If you know of someone who might need a copy, they're a mere ten bucks and can be ordered online here.

NASA seems to have figured out how not to burn up on re-entry. Maybe it's time state inmates do, too. –- Alan Prendergast

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Sean Cronin