By Gene Davis, DENVER DAILY NEWS
An undetermined number of Coloradans will be victimized if Gov. Bill Ritter follows through with his budget-cutting measure that would make select prisoners eligible for early release, according to Colorado Attorney General John Suthers.
Meanwhile, Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said he couldn’t disagree more with Suthers’ claim, adding that the governor spent 25 years as a district attorney putting criminals behind bars and is “not going to do anything that jeopardizes public safety.”
Ritter last month proposed cutting $18.9 million from the state budget by increasing the number of prisoners who are eligible for early release. The plan, which would nibble into the $320 million budget gap the state is facing, would also free select parolees from parole ahead of schedule.
Suthers Tuesday slammed the early release idea, saying that public safety should be the “first and foremost obligation of government.”
“Governor Ritter faces an extremely difficult task in balancing the state budget in the midst of this economic recession, and I understand the budget reductions he announced involve very difficult choices,” he said in a statement. “However, as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, I am concerned that the acceleration of mandatory parole for offenders who have not earned discretionary release will seriously compromise public safety.”
But Dreyer and Colorado Department of Corrections spokeswoman Katherine Sanguinetti say the early release initiative was based on recommendations made by the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, a bipartisan committee comprised of people across the Colorado criminal justice system. The measure also has the support of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.
Ex-prisoners must have successfully been on parole for a minimum of six months, or half their parole sentence, to qualify for the expedited process. Additionally, the parolees must have met their parole goals and be free of write-ups for at least six months.
The prisoners who would be eligible for early parole must be within six months of being released from prison. And with some of the savings gained from releasing some people from parole, the state could afford enhanced services like GPS monitoring and psychotropic medications, if needed, for the newly paroled, according to Sanguinetti. A parole board would have the final say on whether the convicts could get off early.
“This is a very thoughtful, a very modest reform to the criminal justice system,” said Dreyer. “It is innovative and it is cost effective.”
Leading Colorado Republicans jumped on Ritter Tuesday over the early release proposal. State House GOP leader Mike May said the budget should not be balanced at the expense of public safety, and State Senate GOP leader Josh Penry added that the initiative should be pulled off the table immediately.
“The governor’s plan to release violent prisoners early is ill-conceived and reckless,” Penry said in a statement. “There’s no way to dress this one up.”
Dreyer blasted back against May and Penry, saying they were given multiple opportunities to help balance the budget but refused so they could “stand on the sidelines and criticize each and every budget balancing action.”
“They should be ashamed of themselves for playing politics with the recession and with the efforts to keep this state’s budget balanced,” he said.
Distributed by Colorado Capitol Reporters