The Colorado Department of Corrections does not have a written policy to guide parole officers when former inmates violate the conditions of their parole, a DOC official said Thursday during a news conference.
The revelation came on the heels of Gov. John Hickenlooper’s order of a review of DOC records for the past decade to ensure offenders serve appropriate sentences.
“We asked the Department of Corrections to review its internal procedures and initiate an audit of the time and release records,” Hickenlooper said. “The department will prioritize the review of cases with the greatest level of risk, going back 10 years and reviewing required consecutive sentencing. The department will work with the Attorney General’s office on any issues that may need further action.”
Also, the National Institute of Corrections will review the department’s parole operations, which have been heavily questioned because of the handling of Evan Ebel’s parole case. Ebel is the primary suspect in the March killings of DOC Director Tom Clements and Nathan Leon, a pizza delivery man from Denver.
Director of Adult Parole, Community Corrections and the Youthful Offender System Tim Hand and DOC spokeswoman Alison Morgan addressed parole practices and supervision during Thursday’s news conference.
Hand said parole officers and the DOC have limited resources and with the number of parolees released each month, the case load only gets heavier.
“An average of 800 inmates are paroled each month,” Hand said. “We offer programs that will help make re-entry to society successful, but some inmates do not take advantage of them.”
Parole officers do not have a written policy on dealing with parolees when violations occur, Hand said. Rather, officers consider issues on a case-by-case basis, using their training and knowledge of an inmate’s level of compliance and their behavior during imprisonment and upon release.
Although the cases under the supervision of Ebel’s parole officer are being reviewed, Hand said he believes completely in the competency of every corrections officer.
Ebel was released from prison Jan. 28 and despite having spent most of his time in solitary confinement, Hand said Ebel was compliant upon release. Ebel was monitored with a radio frequency ankle bracelet, required to make daily calls to his parole officer and monitoring agency, was employed and had a place to live.
On the morning of March 15 — a Friday — Ebel made his last call to his parole officer. He was not scheduled to work that day, so there was no report from the workplace. Although his ankle monitor alerted the DOC that it had been tampered with, his parole officer did not make contact with his family until the morning of March 19. Ebel is suspected of shooting Clements to death in his home near Monument that night.
According to figures released this week by DOC, the department received 737 alerts that ankle monitors had been tampered with during the six month period from October to March.
Hand said the time discrepancies do not reflect a “flaw in the parole system,” but rather a lack of structure during weekends that the DOC needs to review.
Weekend procedures, as well as the technical details of the DOC’s parole practices, will be assessed by the National Institute of Corrections, an audit that Hand said will be lengthy and all-encompassing.
“I have drafted a letter to the NIC asking for help with specific issues such as the responses by parole officers,” Hand said. “The parolees have specific needs and we look at each case based on levels of risk. We need to set aside allocations for when alerts such as these happen, maybe a special weekend response team.”
Morgan said the biggest challenge for the DOC will be the audit to determine which inmates’ sentences should be interpreted as consecutive and which should be concurrent.
A district judge’s decision to cut short the reading of Ebel’s last prison sentence in 2008 led to his release four years too early, officials with the 11th Judicial District conceded Monday.
The last plea deal Ebel signed mandated a new four-year sentence run consecutive to an earlier sentence, meaning he would remain in prison until 2017.
While announcing the sentence in court on June 11, 2008, however, District Judge David Thorson neglected to mention that the prison term was consecutive, so a clerk left out the detail while typing the sentencing order.
The Colorado Department of Corrections automatically calculates prison sentences to run concurrently when the sentencing order doesn’t stipulate one way or the other, the department said in a statement, which cited case law.
Now the DOC, under Hickenlooper’s order, must audit every case in which the order for consecutive sentences may have been silent — for the past 10 years.
“This amounts to sentences in the thousands,” Morgan said. “Once we find these discrepancies, we have to work with the sentencing courts and attorney general’s office, as well as look at case law, to fix the problems.”
The DOC is responsible for the supervision of about 14,000 offenders, with 1,328 of them in Intensive Supervision Program parole — which is what Ebel was in.