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

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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.

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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6 comments
Glenwoodwilliams
Glenwoodwilliams

I'm on parole for a 2004 case of 2nd degree burglary.if there was no mandatory parole laws I would already have my life back.my sentence ran from 2004 to 2008.with mandatory parole tacked on,it extends to 2013! That's a 10 years on a 5 yr sentence. You call that justice?

Pattywade
Pattywade

I am currently on parole since 2008 and have been successful. I have a 5 year tail which means I will be done in November 2012. I have successfully completed OVER 50% of my parole and my parole officer has yet to submit me for consideration for early release from parole as stated in CDOC AR Reg 250-29. So hopefully the Senate Bill will help to remedy this situation.

Rlcohen123
Rlcohen123

 Best of luck to you. I'm watching it too for my friend

Pam
Pam

These bills together would save the state millions of dollars. Those dollars could be used on the back end to help people be successful on parole...we could fund wrap-around services and treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues. Put money back into education. Oh...the possibilities.

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