Audit of Colo. parole system expanded
DENVER — An audit of Colorado’s parole system is being expanded to review whether budget issues are keeping parole officers from placing some high-risk parolees under intensive supervision because of a cap on expenses.
Roger Werholtz, interim director of the Colorado Department of Corrections, has asked the National Institute of Corrections to expand the scope of its audit into the state’s parole operations to cover budget issues, spokeswoman Alison Morgan said Thursday.
The parole division has been under scrutiny since the killing of prisons chief Tom Clements by a parolee in March.
Documents obtained by the Denver Post through an open-records request show that the state has, in some cases, been unable to place or keep parolees under intensive supervision because of budget limitations on the program, including limits on the use of electronic monitoring devices.
On March 14, parolee Evan Ebel slipped off his ankle monitoring bracelet and three days later fatally shot Denver pizza delivery driver Nathan Leon, authorities believe. He then killed Clements at his home on March 19, investigators said.
It took five days after Ebel removed the bracelet for his parole officer to visit his Commerce City home and six days for a warrant to be issued for his arrest. He was fatally wounded in a shootout with Texas officials on March 21.
On Wednesday, Tim Hand, the state’s director of parole, was put on a paid leave of absence. Hand has not returned telephone calls seeking comment. Morgan declined to discuss the reasons Hand was placed on leave.
Hand told the Denver Post in March that prisoners are closely managed when they are first released, but 800 new people are coming out of prison every month, straining department resources. He later said budget issues are not a factor in determining who is monitored electronically, the primary tool the department uses to ensure parolees comply with the terms of their release.
Morgan said the audit will also review whether parole officers are properly classifying the risk that parolees pose to the public.
“Are officers making decisions based on gut reactions or are their decisions based on sound, evidence-based practices?” Morgan asked. “We don’t know the answers right now.”
Morgan said the parole division always has had a cap in place for the number of intensive-supervision parolees, but it isn’t necessarily driven by budget issues. She said the cap relates to the percentage of parole cases that can be designated as intensive supervision.
“We’re not certain we have a budget problem, but at the end of the audit, we may find we have a budget problem,” Morgan said.
The department is also reviewing staff training. Parole officers receive firearms training, but they may not be adequately trained in risk-assessment and interview techniques.
Colorado corrections officials expect to ask the Legislature for more money to hire as many as 12 new parole officers to track down parolees who have fled supervision, Morgan said.
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