DENVER – Colorado lawmakers will question prison officials about how they’re supervising inmates on parole in light of cases where former inmates slipped out of monitoring bracelets, including a man suspected of killing the state’s corrections chief.
Democratic Denver Rep. Daniel Kagan said Wednesday that lawmakers from the Judiciary Committee in the House and Senate plan hearings in late September to hear what corrections officials are doing to address what he calls “serious deficiencies.” Kagan said lawmakers want to know what corrections officials are doing to correct mistakes and how they happened.
“What has been going wrong? Is it a matter of lack of funding? Is it a matter of too high caseload? Is it a matter of incompetence?” Kagan said.
The state’s parole program has come under immense scrutiny this year after the March killing of Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements. The suspect took his bracelet off days before the slaying, but parole officers didn’t immediately find out.
The parolee, Evan Ebel, is also suspected in the death of Nathan Leon, who was killed while delivering pizzas – a second job he took to help support his wife and three children. Ebel was later killed in a shootout with Texas law officers.
“There’s been additional failures that have come to light with other offenders absconding, and the response time having been inadequate, with tragic consequences,” he said. “It’s a matter of serious concern.”
Last month, The Denver Post reported about cases before Clements’ death where parolees tampered with their ankle monitors. One is now accused of raping two women and another is suspected of murder, the newspaper reported.
In the aftermath of Clements’ death, DOC has revamped its efforts to track parolees and respond faster to tampering of electronic monitoring equipment. The department also asked for and got extra funding from lawmakers to start a 10-member fugitive unit that will begin operating statewide in October.
“We look forward to an open dialogue with the General Assembly and look forward to presenting updated information about the audits that are underway,” said Alison Morgan, a spokeswoman for the department.
The parole division has previously said that an average of 136 parolees – 105 regular parolees and 31 in intensive supervision – abscond each month. Officials said that in the previous three years, they’ve been able to keep the percentage of absconders to about 7.2 percent of the overall parole population.
But officials have also said that parole officers have been overwhelmed with a heavy workload. Kagan said the hearings also will help lawmakers think of possible solutions.
“If the indications are that legislation is needed, yeah we want to discover that, and make sure that the legislative framework is right, as well as the budgetary framework,” he said.