About 115 more inmates per month walked out of Colorado prisons on early release last year compared with 2006, a trend stirring up political debate about how much stock to put into rehabilitating prisoners, reports the Denver Post. Gov. Bill Ritter is pumping more money into drug, alcohol, and job-training programs aimed at reducing the likelihood that ex-prisoners will reoffend. Critics, stunned by the increase in discretionary paroles, say the governor is pushing a new policy without proper public discussion and risking public safety by gambling that his programs will work. “I find it disturbing, frankly, because it’s kind of being done through the back door,” said Mesa County District Attorney Pete Hautzinger.
Ritter, a former prosecutor, said he has not dictated any new policy regarding discretionary release and that the parole board is filled with “people whose judgment I trust with what I consider to be a very serious responsibility.” Critics accuse Ritter of appointing a liberal parole board that is flinging open prison doors. Sen. Josh Penry will pursue a state audit and hearings to investigate the “alarming” increase. “Numbers like this just don’t appear out of thin air,” he said. “It’s another below-the-radar change in policy with sweeping ramifications. Going after recidivism is a good thing; opening the prison doors isn’t the answer.” In Ritter’s first 13 months, the board released 6,099 prisoners, up from 4,405 discretionary paroles in former Gov. Bill Owens’ last 13 months. “It can be a risky business,” said David Michaud, appointed by Ritter to head the board. “We would all dread the day that we would release somebody early and they would go out and commit a horrible crime.”