Interim Colorado Prison Chief Faces Long To-Do List
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) – Colorado’s interim prisons director said Monday he will review early prisoner releases, the death penalty and other issues, but added he can’t predict whether he will make any policy changes.
Roger Werholtz told a Colorado Springs news conference he will address those issues and others that have attracted attention following the March 19 shooting death of corrections chief Tom Clements at his home in the Denver suburb of Monument.
“I am still learning the system. But I am also not here to hold a place,” Werholtz said.
Werholtz is a former corrections director in Kansas. He came out of retirement to take the interim job while Gov. John Hickenlooper conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
Monday was Werholtz’s first day on the job, and he said he expects to serve through July. Werholtz said he isn’t seeking the permanent position, The Denver Post reported.
Colorado’s Department of Corrections is auditing thousands of sentencing records following the discovery that Evan Ebel, the man suspected of killing Clements and Denver pizza deliveryman Nathan Leon, was released from prison four years early because of a clerical error.
Ebel slipped his ankle bracelet after getting out of prison early and violating other terms of his parole. Authorities didn’t put out a warrant for his arrest until after the killings of Clements and Denver pizza delivery man Nathan Leon.
Ebel is the only suspect in Clements’ killing. He died after a shootout with police in north Texas.
Ebel was released from prison after serving eight years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement, which his parents said damaged his already troubled mind.
Werholtz said he hoped to continue changes implemented by Clements, including reducing the use of solitary confinement.
Werholtz said his 28 years’ experience in corrections, including eight years as director in Kansas, had convinced him that “releasing large numbers of inmates directly from segregation does not serve public safety.”
“There are some very positive things going on here and I want to maintain that momentum,” Werholtz said.
A Post report on Sunday raised questions about the practice of awarding “good time” to inmates, including Ebel. Werholtz said he planned to look into that issue as well.
As head of the Kansas department, Werholtz saw a 48 percent reduction in monthly revocation rates for offenders and a 31 percent reduction in absconder rates, Hickenlooper’s office said. Werholtz also taught at the University of Kansas and led the Kansas Criminal Justice Coordinating Council.
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