Colorado prison chief addresses serious challenges facing parolees

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Photo: The Huerfano County Correctional Center
The Huerfano County Correctional Center in Walsenburg, Colorado is one of several private prisons in the state that have closed in recent years.

In June, 56-year-old Kevin Monteiro was released from prison, where he'd been since the 1980s. CPR’s Andrea Dukakis has been reporting on parole through the eyes of Monteiro and some of the people who've worked with him. This is the final installment in our series.

After almost three decades in prison, Kevin Monteiro was a changed man -- and an anxious one. On the day of his release, the Department of Corrections put him on a bus from Sterling and dropped him off in downtown Denver.

Kevin Monteiro close-up #2Monteiro was given a $100 debit card. With him were his meager belongings -- mostly books, in a single box. He had no home. He was so anxious he could hardly move. And he had to wrangle with his parole officer for a voucher that paid for a two-week stay at a bed bug-infested hotel of the Department of Correction's choice.

More from this series:

'I don't defend it'

We put these and other related issues to Rick Raemisch, executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections.

On inmates dropped off far away from their parole office
"We're changing that now. We're either taking particular offices or getting them on bus routes that will get them to where they need to be. There's no question that we've needed a smoother transition from institutions into the community and that's something that we've been working on."

On lack of support for parolees
"We try and link them up with their families, to have their families pick them up. There are some that, of course, don't have the family contacts any more and those are the ones that we tend to be trying to put more resources into so that they don't have that lost feeling when they get released from the institutions."

On why parolees like Kevin Monteiro are released without shelter
"I don't defend it. That is the case on occasion. Those are some of the things that we're obviously trying to fix. I believe we'll be doing so in the future. That's one of the reasons we now have parole officers assigned directly to the institutions so that we can stop some of these problems that we're having."

On the lack of housing
"I can't defend that. I can only say that there are times when we simply don't have housing available. We struggle with that, that's been one of our concerns...When you read in the media about the housing shortage and apartment shortage in Denver, for instance, that creates a problem for our parolees also."

On lack of access to mental health medications and services upon release
"We are improving. That has been a problem in the past....Now...we are actually connecting up [parolees with mental health needs] with services prior to their release. We also now have mental health professionals that are assigned to parole that can work with these individuals when they're having particular problems. So we've made a lot of progress in that area."

On partnering with the Second Chance Center, which helps parolees
"It's wonderful. It's very powerful. It's walk the talk. I've spoken to many inmate gatherings and I stand up and when I speak, I think what possible message -- coming from my background versus theirs -- can I give them, knowing full well that a previous offender who is now successful can stand up and give a much stronger message. I think it's a great partnership. I think it's something that we should truly expand on."