DENVER (AP) — Colorado prison officials said Wednesday they're ramping up efforts to monitor parolees and respond to problems with their electronic monitoring equipment following the slaying of the state's corrections chief.
State lawmakers approved $495,000 as they finalized details of next year's budget.
The extra efforts will start immediately and include monthly roundups of fugitives. The department announced on Tuesday that it would also respond to tampering alerts from parolees within two hours.
Parole records show that white supremacist gang member Evan Ebel slipped out of his ankle bracelet days before Department of Corrections Director Tom Clements was killed at his home. Parole officers didn't realize he had tampered with his bracelet until five days after the fact, the same day Clements was killed March 19.
Ebel is the only suspect in Clements' death.
On Tuesday, the Department of Corrections announced the policy change requiring parole officers to respond to alerts from parolees' electronic monitoring equipment, after a review of their operations following Clements' death.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called for the review last week.
The nearly $500,000 the DOC is using to revamp efforts in their parole division is already part of their budget this year, but it needed permission from lawmakers to use it in next year's budget.
"With consistent dedicated resources in this area, we can reduce the overall percentage of parole absconders. This is a sound public safety initiative for Colorado," Director of the Division of Adult Parole Tim Hand said in a statement.
The division said an average of 136 parolees — 105 regular parolees and 31 in intensive supervision — abscond each month. Officials said that in the previous three years, they've been able to keep the percentage of absconders to about 7.2 percent of the overall parole population.
But officials have also said that they've been dealing with a heavy workload. The Clements case has highlighted the situation.
Democratic Rep. Dan Pabon, who addressed the issue during the budget debate in the House last week, said the funding plan "is a step the right direction in addressing the challenge of the huge caseload" the division has.
He noted that in Colorado, there's one officer for every 50 parolees in intensive supervision — those with ankle monitors. He said the industry standard is one officer for every 20 parolees.
"We need to make sure that we have the right staffing to protect the public safety and monitor these parolees," he said.
Ebel, who is also a suspect in the killing of a pizza deliveryman, was killed in a shootout in Texas.
He was released from prison four years early because of a clerical error. Already serving time for a series of convictions, Ebel was sentenced to an additional four years for assaulting a prison officer, but because it was unclear the sentences were supposed to be served consecutively, officials treated the sentences as concurrent. Ebel walked out of prison in January.
On Tuesday, Colorado court officials found two more sentencing errors like the one that allowed the only suspect in the killing of the state's corrections director to walk out of prison four years early.
Court officials said the new errors were uncovered during a review of five years' worth of assault cases ordered by Hickenlooper.
According to The Denver Post (http://tinyurl.com/d8x4hpk), neither mistake resulted in any inmates being improperly released. The erroneous sentences have since been corrected.
Walter Blair, administrator for the 11th Judicial District, confirmed the errors to The Associated Press. In a statement, the district said the errors are minor, isolated problems, and not indicative of a larger systemic issue.
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