Greeley, CO – The Colorado Department of Corrections (DOC) has announced that it will no longer provide a list of parolees to law enforcement in Weld County, after a local police chief criticized the number of violent offenders who are being released from prison early.
The DOC parole board has released more offenders onto parole during the past three months than it had any of the 20 months prior, KUSA reported.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis has also recently signed several criminal justice reform bills into law, including one that enables the parole board to release more inmates when the prison population falls within three percent of full capacity.
Greeley Police Chief Mark Jones first spoke out about the issue in a Facebook video on May 24.
He noted that the Greeley Police Department’s (GPD) mission is to “proudly work with the citizens to protect” the community, and that part of that joint effort involves his duty to keep the public “informed of what’s going on.”
“Recently, I found out about a violent Greeley gang member, who committed second-degree murder in 1997, and he’s already being released back into our community on parole,” Chief Jones said in the video.
The unnamed offender, who was originally ordered to serve 48 years in prison, also “violently stabbed another inmate” while incarcerated, the chief explained.
“Yet, he’s still being released, even though his mandatory release date wasn’t supposed to be until April of 2043,” Chief Jones continued.
According to the chief, nine of the 14 offenders who were released to parole in May did not have a place to live when they walked out of prison, making it even more difficult for “parole officers to do their job” with regards to supervising them.
Chief Jones said he did not release this information with the intent of frightening the public, but rather to advise citizens about what is occurring with the “broken parole and prison system.”
“The parole system, as it stands now, it’s almost virtually impossible to get somebody revoked off of parole, even whenever they’ve committed other criminal acts that in the past, they would’ve been revoked,” he explained. “You can have people now that will test…[positive] for something like cocaine or heroin or methamphetamine, and that is not enough for them to be revoked and sent back to prison.”
Chief Jones said he is concerned about how these early releases will potentially increase crime rates within the city.
The GPD also provided KUSA with multiple cases where parolees committed new violent offenses after they were released.
“A number of people we spent a lot of time, hard work, taxpayer money to put into prison are coming out early now and I foresee, because of their behavior prior, they’re going to be doing the same thing as we move forward,” Chief Jones said.
Instead of releasing inmates due to capacity issues, more prison space needs to be created, he added.
Colorado State Representative Leslie Herod blasted the police chief for his comments, and claimed he was just trying to stir up fear in the community, KUSA reported.
“I feel like it's fear mongering at it's worse,” Herod told the news outlet. “April saw an uptick in offenders being released on parole than ever and it's because we put in resources to help the parole board manage their caseload.”
The disagreement between DOC and local law enforcement intensified during a recent Weld County Chiefs of Police Association meeting, KUSA reported.
The association is comprised of representatives from area law enforcement agencies, the district attorney’s office, and DOC.
During the meeting, the DOC representative said that the parole department will no longer provide a list of offenders being released to parole due to Chief Jones’ comments, District Attorney Michael Rourke told KUSA.
“We get to the parole representative, and her comment was, ‘Thanks to Greeley Police Chief Mark Jones and the most recent story that was done on the news about the release of a parolee back in the community, the parole department has made the determination that they would no longer provide to law enforcement a list of the parolees who were coming back in the community over the course of the next month,’” Rourke recounted.
The district attorney said he was angered and frustrated by the DOC’s decision to withhold such information from local law enforcement.
“We have a lot of frequent fliers,” he said. “We have a lot of people who law enforcement are very familiar with…They have got to know when some of these violent offenders come back into the community. We have to know from a prosecutor’s office, when we are prosecuting cases, to know when someone is on parole.”
Law enforcement officers should be provided with information regarding “who’s coming back, where they are, who they’re associating with,” Rourke continued. “I think it goes directly to officer safety, so the officers know who they’re dealing with.”
The decision also places the community at risk, Chief Jones said.
“If we are not receiving parole information and who is being paroled back into our community, I think that’s a detriment to not only the police department but the DA's office, to the citizens of Greeley,” he told KUSA. “It was never my intent to start a fight or have this kind of problem between myself and parole. I am more than willing to sit down and talk about it but I haven’t heard from anybody.”
The DOC said that it previously released the parolee list as a “courtesy” to law enforcement, and said that its refusal to disclose information about those released from prison is only temporary.
“We are simply pausing the distribution for a moment in order to review what information is included in that report to ensure that it is in line with our policies, that it protects the safety of both the community and the parolees, and that it is of use to agencies for law enforcement purposes,” the DOC said in a statement to KUSA.
“DOC has always worked to have positive relationships with our partners in law enforcement around the state, and we are currently reviewing our overall practices on how our parole office engages with all local law enforcement to best support those relationships,” the statement read.
The DOC said it will be “reaching out” to Chief Jones in the near future “so that our parole staff can meet with him and provide him with accurate information about the parole process and the monitoring of parolees.”