VIDEO: DOC interim chief wants to lay foundation for progress

May 16, 2013 Updated: May 16, 2013 at 7:30 pm

Colorado Department of Corrections interim chief Roger Werholtz wants to set plans in motion that will carry the agency forward in the right direction.

During an interview with The Gazette Thursday, Werholtz praised slain director Tom Clements' accomplishments and said he wants to use them as the foundation for a plan of action that recognizes the department's strengths, as well as its shortcomings.

"Everything is on the table," Werholtz said. "Not all of it will be pleasant, but we are committed to figure out what needs to be corrected, as well as capitalize on what's worked so far."

Werholtz was appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper April 22 as interim chief and will leave the post July 31. While his time in office will be short, Werholtz was optimistic that progress can be made to set the stage for his successor at the agency, where practices have come under heavy scrutiny since Clements' murder at his Monument home in March.

"I agree with a lot of the work Tom was doing, especially his efforts to prepare parolees for successful re-entry to society," Werholtz said. "The large majority of offenders have the ability to change, if they are given the tools."

Colorado corrections officials have teamed with the National Institute of Corrections, the Center for Effective Public Policy, the Vera Institute of Justice and the state government to review the department's parole policies and other guidelines. Although it's a huge undertaking, Werholtz welcomed the changes ahead.

"We need to change the ways parole officers interact with offenders," Werholtz said. "It may take years for the institution to change its practices completely, but most people will get on board."

The department is in the midst of a sentencing audit that has already alerted courts of 281 inmates whose sentences appear to have been handed over incorrectly. The audit was prompted to address sentencing mistakes that were exposed during the ongoing investigation into Evan Ebel, the main suspect in Clements's killing.

Ebel was incarcerated for eight years and paroled, but a clerical error kept him from serving four more years after being convicted of assaulting a guard in 2008.

According to Alison Morgan, DOC spokeswoman, the audit is looking at cases for 8,415 convicted offenders. After an initial review, 2,556 inmates' sentences were designated for a secondary review and 281 for external review.

Werholtz said the department expects the audit to be completed by July.

"I am very pleased with the progress the audit has made and its results," Werholtz said.

Werholtz said Clements forged strong relationships with his staff.

"Everyone at the department are survivors of a murder, they are also grieving and healing," Werholtz said. "We need calm, time to reorganize, think and regroup."

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