State parole system belongs on probation

Members of Colorado’s Parole Board suggest there may be a number of reasons why the percentage of state prison inmates receiving early parole has been inching higher over the past three years.

But they can’t say for certain because, as an audi requested by state lawmakers revealed this month, the parole board has not been keeping track of the parolees the way the law requires.

There is no way of knowing whether the board is consistent with its decisions to grant early parole. The state doesn’t even track whether those who are paroled early have a higher or lower recitivism rate than those who serve their full prison sentences, despite state law requiring it to do so and report that information to the Division of Criminal Justice.

The overall number of prisoners receiving early parole has risen in recent years. That’s not surprising, since the total prison population has also been growing.

More importantly, the percentage of those who receive early parole in Parole Board hearings has been steadily rising — from 10 percent in 2005 to roughly 16 percent this year.

Earlier, some Republicans blamed the increase on more liberal Parole Board members, appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter, pushing to get inmates out of prison earlier.

We never bought that argument. Ritter is a former Denver district attorney who never had a soft-on-crime reputation. It’s not likely he would appoint Parole Board members with a primary mission of seeing inmates get out of prison as quickly as possible.

Furthermore, there are other factors that may explain some of the increases, including legislative revisions in how some drug crimes are treated.

On top of that, the failure to report the recidivism information as required by law dates back to 1996. So it occurred in the last year of Democrat Roy Romer’s administration and through that of Republican Gov. Bill Owens.

Because of the problems revealed by the audit, no one can proclaim with any degree of
certainty: “This many inmates were released early because of these specific policy changes.”

The Parole Board and state Department of Corrections promise to install a new electronic monitoring system to track why inmates receive early parole and how they perform after being paroled.

That’s a good idea. So is greater legislative scrutiny of the system. Until the Parole Board and Department of Corrections have some solid information about the reasons inmates are granted early parole and their recitivism rates after leaving prison, the whole parole system should be placed on probation.


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