DENVER (AP) – Democrats have rejected a proposal to give Colorado prisons the power to revoke inmates’ earned time, saying the measure raised safety concerns and discouraged good behavior.
A Senate committee rejected the bill on a 3-2 party-line vote Wednesday. The proposal sought to change current law, which says certain earned time cannot be revoked.
Republicans brought the bill as another response to last year’s murder of Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements. The suspect in that case, Evan Ebel, received 115 days of earned time during his nearly eight years in prison despite several citations for violent offenses, including fighting and assault.
“I saw it as a public safety issue to keep offenders in prison. If they break the rules or commit a crime of violence, they can lose all their earned time,” said Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, a sponsor of the bill.
The measure easily cleared the House with bipartisan support on a 57-6 vote.
But Senate Democrats were concerned the bill could incite gang fights to bait certain inmates to lose their earned time, and take away an incentive for inmates to behave.
The bill sought to let the Corrections Department revoke earned time “as it determines for any reason.” The agency would be required to do so for violent crimes.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Denver, said the bill was “so incredibly broad” that it potentially could lead to inmates having earned time revoked for simple “appearance violations.”
“So if your hair is not combed, you can lose the earned time that you gained by enrolling in a GED program and trying to better yourself,” he said.
Ulibarri noted Ebel’s earned time wasn’t the only reason he was released early. Ebel was in prison when he was sentenced to an additional four years for assaulting an officer. But the court paperwork sent to the Corrections Department failed to note that the sentences were supposed to be served consecutively. Prison officials said that by law, they had to consider the sentences as concurrent. That led to his release four years early.
Legislators passed a law last year aimed at preventing such mistakes from happening again.
Herpin said he disagreed with the argument that revoking earned time would discourage prisoners from behaving.
“I saw it just the opposite. If you know that you may lose your earned time by breaking a rule, I think you’d be less likely to break a rule,” he said.
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