Report: Prisons System Lacks Guidelines for Electronic Monitoring

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[Department of Corrections Director Rick Raemisch listens as Gov. John Hickenlooper speaks at a news conference today. CPR Photo]

Last March, parolee Evan Ebel cut off his ankle monitor. Corrections staff didn’t respond. Days later, then Department of Corrections Chief Tom Clements was murdered at his home. Ebel is the only suspect in the case. At a news conference today to release the corrections department study, Clement’s successor, Rick Raemisch, posed this question.

"I mean I could ask in this room, okay, everybody who thinks it’s okay for an alarm to go off for six days and not have someone respond to it, raise your hand if you think it’s okay? I don’t see any going up and that includes us up here," Raemisch said. "We know that’s not okay."

The study by the National Institute of Corrections states corrections officers need better training and supervision of electronic monitoring. It also recommends more be done to prepare inmates for life upon release.

Gov. John Hickenlooper appointed Raemisch last month. He once ran the state prisons system in Wisconsin. Hickenlooper promised improving electronic monitoring will be a top, evolving priority.

"The technology around how we do this in the next six months, 12 months, is going to change, right? How do we use databases and maps? How are the different ways we communicate with police departments? I think what this report lays out is a process of continuous improvement," he said.

But the report also spells out basic areas that need work. Corrections staff must define when electronic monitoring is the best approach. The central monitoring center needs oversight. And officers need help to figure out which alert to respond to first when they receive several at once. Raemisch says better training, guidelines and supervision are the answers.

"We are going to be prioritizing these types of alarms and what’s the best way to respond and when we do respond what type of response should we have? Should it be a parole officer? Should it be a law enforcement officer? Or should it be both. Or should it simply be a phone call to simply say, all right, what’s going on here? Those are the type of guidelines we need," Raemisch said.

Raemisch doesn’t think the department needs to add more corrections staff to reduce caseloads. He says that amounts to throwing money at the system. He did note, though, that the state has created a special detail to track down parolees who have absconded, giving parole officers more time for their other cases. He also says corrections staff will no longer drop parolees from electronic monitoring because of perceived budget concerns.

"I used the word perceived because the money was actually there but as we all know there is always fixed resources. And so in their minds they had to judge, and this again is where policy guidelines were lacking, where they had to determine, okay, i can keep these people on electronic monitoring but if I do that then from this treatment program some funds I am going to be taking away.

The report made recommendations beyond the parole system. They included reducing the number of times inmates are moved within the prison system, creating programs to prepare prisoners for life after release and helping parolees in making that transition. Hickenlooper says under Clements the department was focusing more on rehabilitation.

"I think efforts spent on remediation and preparation for offenders to return to their communities, dollar for dollar, are just as valuable as dollars spent on police officers," Hickenlooper said.

So if all of the recommendations in the report had been in place a year ago, would Clements still be alive? Would corrections staff have reacted when Ebel cut off his ankle bracelet?

Raemisch says it’s impossible to know.

"You all know this alarm was going off for six days. If someone had responded within in one day would that have prevented the homicide? It might have. If they could have found him that first day," Rasemisch said. "But remember what we’re hear to say today is based on this reoprt what we’re doing now and continue to do is do everything we can to work hard and keep Colorado safer."

The recommendations in the study will be put in place immediately.