DENVER (AP) — Lawmakers approved funding Thursday for a new fugitive unit that will help Colorado track escaped parolees — the latest initiative from officials under immense public scrutiny after the slaying of the state's prison chief.
The 10-member unit will be established in October and will operate around the state to capture offenders who escape parole supervision or walk away from community corrections centers, according to a legislative staff briefing to budget writers who approved the request. The Department of Corrections said it expects the unit to reduce the number of absconders by 25 percent.
The Colorado Joint Budget Committee, in a 4-1 vote, approved nearly $1 million in the next budget year, which begins July 1, and about $854,500 annually thereafter for the new fugitive unit.
Colorado's parole supervision system has received more attention since the slaying of corrections chief Tom Clements in March. The lone suspect, Evan Ebel, was released early from his sentence due to a clerical error, and then while on parole slipped out of his monitoring bracelet. Although he did so days before Clements' death, it took five days for parole officers to determine he had fled.
In April, corrections officials worked with lawmakers to shift department funding to ramp up efforts to monitor parolees, including responding quicker to tampering with electronic monitoring equipment. Corrections officials also used that shift in funds to conduct monthly roundups of absconders.
The funding request prepared for lawmakers said the new fugitive unit "furthers the department's efforts to reduce the absconder population by establishing a full-time fugitive unit within the Parole Office that will focus on absconders."
Some of the lawmakers expressed concern about the request before approving it, saying they had unanswered questions about how the initiative compares to programs in other states. The lawmakers say they want to monitor the department's progress on the matter.
Democratic Rep. Claire Levy, a member of the JBC, said she would like to further analyze how to make sure the state is providing offenders the tools to successfully complete parole.
"I hope that this isn't the end of the story. We do need to look at what resources we're putting in at the very beginning of their period of parole to increase their chance of success on parole," she said.
Ivan Moreno can be reached at http://twitter.com/IvanJourno .