Tom Clements: Murdered prison chief seen in new video urging drug-law reform

Tom Clements, the reform-minded head of the Colorado Department of Corrections who was murdered at his home last month by a parolee, makes a posthumous appearance in a new video advocating for one of his favorite causes: more substance abuse treatment for chronic, low-level offenders, freeing up costly prison beds for violent criminals who pose a threat to public safety. "Substance addiction can dramatically alter the way people think, what's important to them, and the way they behave," Clements says.

Clements' death, linked to a deadly rampage by parole absconder Evan Ebel, made national headlines. It also left criminal justice reform groups in Colorado fearing a backlash that would undo much of what Clements had been trying to accomplish in Colorado's prison system, including reducing use of solitary confinement (Ebel spent years in lockdown at Colorado's supermax) and boosting mental health and substance abuse treatment. But Clements gets to say a few more words on that subject on YouTube.

The video, released as part of the Brave New Foundation's Beyond Bars campaign, urges passage of Senate Bill 250, part of an ongoing effort to overhaul Colorado's drug code, reducing penalties for drug users and small-time dealers and funneling money into treatment and diversion programs.

"What Works in Colorado" features interviews with Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson, and other members of the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice talking about the enormous cost of the drug war and the long-term savings involved in stressing treatment over prison. Clements, a member of the CCCJJ, appears briefly, noting that 85 percent of DOC inmates have some kind of substance abuse problem.

SB-250 received unanimous approval in the Senate Judiciary Committee last week but has yet to reach the House.

Here's the video:

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Tom Clements, Department of Corrections chief, murdered at home: Assassination?"

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Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast