High number of prisoners released early spurs Colorado auditor’s report

Less than a year after state lawmakers requested a probe into skyrocketing early prison releases, the Colorado Department of Corrections has reported that discretionary prison releases shot up again by a double-digit percentage.

During the 2007-08 fiscal year, which ended June 30, the parole board released 5,596 inmates compared to 5,069 the previous year, an increase of more than 10 percent, according to recently released statistics.

Last year’s parole releases are nearly double the 2,813 discretionary releases during the 2006-07 fiscal year, the final year the panel was entirely appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

A prisoner’s release on parole is “discretionary” when it comes before the inmate completes his or her prison sentence.

State Sen. Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, said the continued increase in discretionary parole releases without an explanation is concerning.

“With no debate and no real explanation for the Legislature or the public, the new parole board has essentially doubled the number of prison releases in just two years,” Penry said.

The surge in discretionary parole releases the state agency first reported last year prompted Penry and a handful of his colleagues to request that the state auditor probe why the parole numbers ballooned so quickly in the first year after Gov. Bill Ritter began appointing members of the board.

Parole board members, including former Denver Police Chief David Michaud, denied at the time that parole decisions were motivated by political or budgetary concerns.

Outgoing Rep. Rob Witwer, R-Golden, said he hopes the state auditor’s probe, scheduled for
release Monday afternoon, will shed some light on the reason for the high number of releases.

Witwer said he thinks the probe will show there has been a clear “change in policy” encouraging the early release of prison inmates.

Evan Dreyer, spokesman for the governor’s office, said lawmakers interested in unearthing a nefarious conspiracy are going to be disappointed.

“There was not and has not been … a change of policy around parole,” Dreyer said. “The governor’s top priority is public safety, keeping communities safe and keeping criminals who deserve to be in prison behind bars.”

The Legislative Audit Committee will hear the state auditor’s findings at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Members of the public interested in listening to the hearing or obtaining a copy of the audit can do so via the Legislature’s Web site, http://www.leg.state.co.us.


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