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April 25, 2013

Colorado report documents significant costs of poor planning for sex offender sanctions

A helpful reader alerted me to this interesting new Denver Post piece headlined "Audit rips Colorado's lifetime-supervision sentence for sex offenders." Here are excerpts:

A 15-year-old state law that created a lifetime-supervision sentence for Colorado sex offenders provides insufficient treatment for many of the highest-risk inmates and has left thousands of others waiting for therapy in prison, according to a recent audit.

Demand for treatment in the Department of Corrections' Sex Offender Treatment and Monitoring Program greatly exceeds supply, the audit found.  Just one-sixth of inmates eligible to begin treatment are able to start the program each year — effectively keeping many sex offenders in prison indefinitely.

More than 1,000 inmates who are ready and waiting for treatment have passed their parole-eligibility dates, the auditors found. Their prolonged incarceration may be costing Colorado taxpayers as much as $30 million a year.

In a scathing audit given to corrections officials in February, Central Coast Clinical and Forensic Psychology Services Inc. also found the sex-offender program suffers from poorly qualified therapists and inappropriate levels of treatment given offenders.

"It's a disaster," said Laurie Kepros, who directs sexual-litigation cases for the Colorado public defender's office.  "Thousands of people are being told you have to have treatment to get out of prison" by a system failing to provide that treatment, she said. "We're paying for this every day."

Former Republican state Rep. Norma Anderson, who sponsored the 1998 law, said she recognizes the high cost of keeping many violent sex offenders in prison indefinitely and would like to see funding for treatment increased.  Still, "I'd rather have them there than out committing another sex crime," she said.  "I'm on the side of the victim and always will be."

Tom Clements, the state corrections chief who was killed March 19, had promised a swift response to the issues raised by the audit and fundamental changes to the sex-offender program in a March 8 letter to the legislative Joint Budget Committee.  Clements was shot to death at the door of his Monument home.  The suspected killer, Evan Ebel, was an inmate who had been released directly from solitary confinement to "intensive supervision" parole.

Clements' murder brought intense scrutiny to the state parole system because Ebel, paroled on robbery and related charges, had slipped off his ankle bracelet five days earlier.  Now, legislators say they also plan to scrutinize the sex-offender treatment program within the prisons — and the law that created potential lifetime sentences for sex offenses.

The law established indeterminate sentences — five years to life, for example — for many sex-offense crimes in Colorado.  Sex offenders who successfully complete a prison-treatment program and get paroled then enter a community-based lifetime-supervision program....

The number of Colorado inmates classified as sex offenders has grown from 21 percent to 26 percent of the total prison population in five years.  Much of the growth can be traced to the 1998 law. By 2012, more than 1,600 of the nearly 4,000 men classified as sex offenders in Colorado prisons were sentenced under the law.

The audit of the program was undertaken at the behest of state Rep. Claire Levy, a Boulder Democrat who serves on the Joint Budget Committee. She said it confirmed her longstanding concerns about the program's fairness and effectiveness. It affirmed that "low-risk sex offenders can be treated as effectively in the community," Levy said. "The lifetime-supervision law does not allow that."

The report described the state's sex-offender treatment program as "largely a one-size-fits-all program in which all treatment participants are generally expected to complete the same treatment exercises." This treatment occurs in groups that "are very large, often with 14 per group," the experts wrote.

The auditors reported that low-risk sex offenders in Colorado remain imprisoned at great cost, that the most dangerous offenders get too little attention and that nearly half the therapists they observed were "poor" — conducting group therapy sessions with behaviors "outside the range of what is acceptable for a therapist." In some cases, those therapists appeared bored and "sometimes expressed hostility," the authors reported.  "Therapists sometimes appeared demeaning and condescending, mocking their patients."

The state spends about $31,000 a year to keep a single person in prison. That's $30 million a year the state is spending unnecessarily if the prison system holds a thousand sex offenders who could be treated safely outside, said Kepros of the public defender's office....

The audit found Colorado prisons can yearly accept just 675 of 3,959 sex offenders who are within four years of parole eligibility, leaving 3,284 unable to participate in treatment. As a result, other sex offenders may be unable to get any treatment before their release "even if they present an exceptionally high risk" to the community, the audit said.  It noted that therapists and inmates alike described the treatment programs as "under-resourced," with little attention to individual needs and scant opportunity for private, individual therapy.

April 25, 2013 at 04:07 PM | Permalink

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Comments

I think it's less poor planning and more representative of the mindset towards dealing with sex offenders. "Treatment" is offered in the guise of extending sentences (e.g., civil commitment, which courts in other countries have found to be violative of human rights) when no one really cares about actual treatment to begin with. The mindset is that treatment doesn't work, so why bother? The therapists that head up many of these state-run treatment grounds, especially those in prison, can be better termed inquisitors by virtue of some of their behavior.

If this state rep were truly "on the side of the victims," as she claims to be, then it strikes me she'd care a bit more about making sure that re-offenses don't happen by ensuring that offenders get the treatment that will help them, not by scoring easy political points by wrapping herself in the flag.

Posted by: Guy | Apr 25, 2013 6:09:24 PM

stupid is as stupid does, these politicians should be tried for stupidity along with the idiots that keep electing them

Posted by: Carl | Apr 25, 2013 7:30:22 PM

If SO's are sentenced to prison with treatment as part of their sentence, and they don't receive treatment while incarcerated, then can we sue the government for "Neglect". Cost of treatment can't be an issue for the government, look at all the money they make off prisoners and their families by charging outrageous prices for comissary and prison phone calls. The problem is still that Sex Offender is such a broad term, everyone no matter non-violent or violent, gets thrown under the same bus by the government when it comes to treatment, probation, etc. Wake Up America, all SO's are not alike!

Posted by: kat | Apr 26, 2013 9:44:03 AM

Keep prisoners beyond the expiration of their sentence (example: measures like civil commitment)actually put staff and guards at extra risk for their own security. Inmates who have to stay beyond their sentences' expirations have NO incentive to behave well toward staff and guards, as doing so will not give them special privileges, much less any suspended sentences.

There, thus, might come the day when the civally committed decide that they have nothing to lose by lashing out at their jailors, especially if any of their jailors provoke the inmates into any violent response. All we need to do is remember Attica and Lucasville--two major inmate uprisings that claimed the lives of several hostages along with those of several inmates.

Inmates in civil commitment might eventually ask themselves what is the worst that could possibly to them if they did assault or kill their keepers--maybe a DE JURE life sentence on top of their existing DE FACTO sentence under the same time of restrictive prison-like conditions? If their new sentence is exactly identical to the civil commitment type sentence, then that is no deterrent.

I work as a reader/writer.

Posted by: william r. delzellell | Apr 29, 2013 9:26:01 AM

Plus william just think even if they play nice and someday in the future they manage to get released.

What is their reward!

Illegal LIFETIME parole/probation.
Illegal LIFETIME neverending ever changing rules and regulations

WHOPEE!

Much better to die taking some of the two-faced hatefilled nazi wannabee's with them!

Posted by: rodsmith | Apr 29, 2013 2:22:14 PM

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