DENVER (CBS4)– The Colorado Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee began investigating Thursday what one legislator described as an ‘ongoing culture of problems’ within the state parole department.
“Its very troublesome to me, a significant public safety issue,” said Rep. Mark Waller, a committee member.
Waller said the special two-day hearing is due to a series of CBS4 Investigations called “Justice Failed,” which uncovered numerous problems with the supervision of parolees and the Intensive Supervised Parole program.
“You’re the one who brought all these questions to light,” Waller said.
As a result, the Joint Judiciary Committee heard Thursday from a host of legislative staff members and parole and corrections officials describing what they do, how they do it and how they make various parole related decisions.
“We’ve seen parolees have been inadequately supervised on occasions,” said Rep. Daniel Kagan, who chairs the committee.
“We don’t know what’s led to the failures we have seen but we need to know,” said Kagan. “We can’t just trust without checking that these problems have been taken care of.”
High on the committee’s agenda is examining the Intensive Supervised parole or ISP program.
The CBS4 Investigation revealed that parole officers were routinely taking dangerous parolees off ISP, or never placing them on it, due to perceived budget problems.
ISP is the most expensive form of parole supervision involving electronic monitoring, daily phone calls to the parole department and weekly face-to-face meetings with parole officers.
Records obtained by CBS4 showed parole officers citing “program caps” and inadequate budgets as reasons they were not placing high risk offenders on ISP or removing them from the program altogether.
Parole officers told CBS4 the practice had been going on for years. Initially, the Department of Corrections administrators disputed the CBS4 Investigation and vehemently denied dangerous offenders were being downgraded for purely budgetary reasons.
“It is not our practice, it is not our procedure,” insisted DOC administrator Alison Morgan in an interview in April. “We felt it was important to be here on the record to say that’s absolutely not our practice within parole or the department of corrections.”
But after seeing their own internal records, dug up during the CBS4 Investigation, parole administrators eventually backtracked admitting the practice had occurred on an ongoing basis but saying they were unsure why it was occurring.
“We don’t know whats led to the failures we have seen,” said Kagan, “But we need to know.”
On the eve of the parole hearings, the family of Claudia Miller spoke out about the parole system and its failures. Miller, a Lakewood lawyer and grandmother was murdered in her office in March.
Police say the man who sexually assaulted and strangled her was Warren Watson, a parolee who had just been released from prison three years early. The parole board judged Watson to be a ‘low risk’ for recidivism, even though a CBS4 Investigation found that six previous times Watson had been placed on parole or community corrections, he had escaped or absconded. And although the parole department was given the option of placing Watson on ISP, they declined, placing him on “regular” parole which meant a far lower level of supervision.
“There are things missing that are causing these guys to fall through the cracks and we can’t afford to have one of them fall through the cracks,” said Doug Miller, Claudia Miller’s ex- husband.
He said he was surprised the parole board released Warren Watson three years early, given his serial escapes, a previous violent offense and other factors.
“All of a sudden there’s this person out there who is really dangerous and just because we didn’t want to pay for them being in jail. I don’t think that’s right,” said Miller.
The parole hearings continue Friday with testimony from the Executive Director of the Department of Corrections Rick Raemisch.
– Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com