As Colorado struggles to lower one of the nation’s highest return-to prison rates, parole officers are stuck balancing second chances against punishment for parolees who misbehave, the Denver Post reports in the conclusion of a series. The state’s parole division two years ago adopted new policies aimed at keeping troubled parolees out of prison and on the streets whenever possible. The shift has been plagued by inadequate training and a lack of resources, corrections officials now say. Law enforcement and parole officers question the new direction, fearing the public’s safety is at risk. Parolees are “getting so bold because of the direction the whole division is going in,” said Ryan Burch, who supervises sex offenders. “We’re losing the parolees’ fear that prevents them from violating their parole.”
Two years ago, Greeley police Chief Jerry Garner complained to corrections officials that his community faced a surge of dangerous parolees on the street. Previously, officers had leeway when deciding to pursue revoking parole. The new program, called the Colorado Violation Decision Making Process, takes into account risk levels of offenders and gives points for violations to determine presumptive sanctions, which can range from verbal reprimands to a revocation. Some parole officers say the program is too lenient and seems to be another way for the state to save money. Parole officer Burch said violations are often a precursor for bigger problems. A person taking drugs might be stealing to feed his habit, he said. A sex offender caught with a prohibited smartphone may be a step away from looking at children online.