DENVER |Parole statistics maintained by the Colorado prison system have errors that made it almost impossible for the state to determine whether the parole board made sound choices during the past decade about which prisoners to parole, a Colorado corrections researcher said.
Research director Maureen O’Keefe said she found the errors after she took over the job.
“Once I realized how significant it was, we couldn’t determine whether the parole board was making good decisions,” she said.
“It’s just a crazy thing that it was ever allowed to happen. They were much more like a mandatory (release) than a discretionary. … It was just kind of bad decision-making, in my mind,” O’Keefe said.
Parole in Colorado has come under close scrutiny after corrections chief Tom Clements was killed in a crime linked to former inmate Evan Ebel, who was released from prison years too soon because of court error.
The state prison system stopped releasing inmates on weekends in December 2005, and record-keeping practices were changed to classify those prisoners’ released days before completing their full sentences as discretionary parolees. Until then, that label had been reserved for offenders who were granted early release by the parole board well in advance of completing their sentences.
The problem continued until December 2009, creating a void in meaningful data to assess whether the parole board was making sound decisions.
Corrections spokeswoman Alison Morgan told the Fort Collins Coloradoan (https://tinyurl.com/d443bzq ) the state was focused on passing legislation and budget investments in treatment, alternatives to incarceration and curbing recidivism guided by better use of analytical tools. Morgan said the prison system entered a new era of reliance on science and data after Clements was named DOC executive director in January 2011.
“We manage risk every day. Some days we manage risk really well. Other days we learn how we can manage risk better,” Morgan said.
Colorado has not audited the performance of its parole board since 2008. In that assessment, auditors criticized the useless parole data coming out of the prison system and the state’s failure to follow its own laws related to discretionary parole.
Between 1996 and 2008, neither the parole board nor the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice had been abiding by a state law that required them to share and analyze parole and recidivism data, the audit reported.
A law passed in 2009 required the parole board to develop a data-driven program to inform its decisions by weighing a prospective parolee’s risk of re-offending against factors indicative of his readiness to rejoin society outside of prison.
In 2012, 3,607 prisoners were granted discretionary parole compared with 2,095 in 2011, according to the DOC. While the leap was dramatic, O’Keefe said that it illustrates the low number of discretionary releases in 2011 more than it suggests the parole board swung the prison doors wide open in 2012.