The Colorado Parole Process
This webpage provides an overview of the parole process which involves three entities: the Department of Corrections, the DOC’s Division of Adult Parole Services, and the Parole Board. Once released to parole, parolees remain committed to the custody of the DOC.
The Division of Adult Parole Services is responsible for monitoring an offender while in the community on parole and for reporting an offender to the Parole Board if the offender violates a condition of parole. Revoking an offender’s parole necessitates interaction between the Division of Adult Parole Services and the Parole Board. The Parole Board is responsible for providing the offender with a hearing and deciding whether the offender should remain on parole.
The parole process, including:
- parole eligibility;
- pre-parole procedures;
- the Parole Board;
- ¡parole hearings;
- release to parole;
- parole supervision; and
- revocation of parole.
The parole population, including:
- parole population profile;
- parole population projections; and
- parole funding history.
Colorado law specifies that any person sentenced for a class 2, class 3, class 4, class 5, or class 6 felony, or any unclassified felony, is eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of the imposed sentence, less earned time (up to ten days per month). Assuming an inmate earns 100 percent of allowable earned time, the earliest possible parole date is after serving 38 percent of the sentence (see Figure 5.1 on page 40). Colorado law prohibits inmates from reducing their sentence through earned time by more than 25 percent.
Offenders convicted of more serious violent crimes, however, are not eligible for parole after serving 50 percent of their sentence. Certain violent offenders must serve 75 percent of their sentence, less earned time. These include offenders convicted of the following offenses committed on or after July 1, 2004:
- second degree murder;
- first degree assault;
- first degree kidnapping unless the first degree kidnapping is a class 1 felony;
- first degree arson;
- first degree burglary; and
- aggravated robbery.
The above provisions only apply to offenders convicted of the above-listed crimes that are class 2 or class 3 felonies, and offenders convicted of the above-listed crimes that are class 4 or 5 felonies when the offender has previously been convicted of a crime of violence.
The following crimes are included in the list of crimes of violence:
- any crime against an at-risk adult or at-risk juvenile;
- first or second degree assault;
- a sexual offense pursuant to part 4 or article 3 of title 18;
- aggravated robbery;
- first degree arson;
- first degree burglary;
- escape; or
- criminal extortion.
As of November 1, 1998, the parole of sex offenders is governed by the “Colorado Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act of 1998,” codified in Section 18-1.3-1002, C.R.S. Among other things, the legislation set a minimum parole period of 20 years for a sex offender convicted of a class 2 or 3 felony, and a minimum of ten years for a sex offender convicted of a class 4 felony. A sex offender can be placed on parole for the remainder of his natural life if the Parole Board believes indefinite supervision is necessary to protect public safety.
“Crime of violence” also means any unlawful sexual offense in which the defendant caused bodily injury to the victim or in which the defendant used threat, intimidation, or force against the victim. It should be noted that class 1 felony offenders are not eligible for parole.
Any offender (except sex offenders 1) convicted and sentenced for a crime enumerated above who twice previously was convicted for a crime which would have been a crime of violence and who has been convicted lf a class 2 or class 3 felony listed above, or a class 4 or 5 felony listed above after two prior convictions of a crime of violence, is eligible for parole after serving 75 percent of the sentence, but no earned time is granted.Pre-Parole Procedures
All eligible inmates are scheduled to be seen by the Parole Board at least 90 days prior to their parole eligibility date. Before an inmate can be released from a DOC facility or community corrections program, the inmate must have a parole plan that details where he or she will live and work, and who will be responsible for the inmate upon release. DOC case managers are responsible for preparing an inmate’s parole plan.
The plan then is submitted to the Division of Adult Parole Services for investigation by a community parole officer (CPO). A CPO in the appropriate regional office is assigned to verify information in the parole plan. Ideally, the CPO visits the inmate’s proposed residence, employer, family members, and all other persons identified as potential parole resources. Once the division receives the plan, the investigation should be completed within 15 days for domestic cases and 30 days for interstate cases. At the release hearing, the board reviews the inmate’s file, hears from the inmate’s case manager, and makes a determination of whether parole will be granted.The Parole Board
Size and composition of the Parole Board. The Colorado State Board of Parole consists of seven members who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Parole Board members perform their duties full-time. The board is composed of two representatives from law enforcement, one former parole or probation officer, and four citizen representatives. The statutes require that Parole Board members have knowledge of parole, rehabilitation, correctional administration, the functioning of the criminal justice system, and the issues associated with victims of crime. The statutes further require the three designated Parole Board members (law enforcement and probation representatives) each have at least five years education or experience, or a combination thereof, in their respective fields.Hearings of the Parole Board
The Parole Board’s primary responsibility is to conduct inmate release hearings.
Parole Board members conduct four types of hearings:
- parole application interviews – the board, via a single member, considers an inmate’s parole application, interviews the inmate, decides whether the inmate should be released on parole, and determines the conditions of parole. This personal interview may be a face-to-face interview, a live telecommunication interview, or a live telephonic interview at the board’s discretion. Release hearings are held at the institution or in the community where the offender is physically incarcerated. If the board member decides to release the offender, the approval by signature is required by an additional board member;
- full board reviews – the board meets as a full board to consider all cases involving a violent crime, cases with a history of violence, and all other matters recommended for full board review by board members conducting the release hearing. Four board members constitute a quorum and four affirmative votes are necessary to grant parole;
- rescission hearings – the board, via a single member, may suspend an established parole release date upon receipt of information not previously considered by the board, or upon receipt of information reflecting improper conduct by the inmate including disciplinary violations. A rescission hearing is then held by a single board member to determine if a decision to parole should be rescinded prior to the inmate actually being released on parole; and
- revocation hearings – revocation hearings are held to determine whether parole should be revoked and whether the parolee should be returned to a DOC facility. A revocation hearing is conducted either by a single member of the Parole Board or by an Administrative Hearings Officer (AHO). The single board member or AHO conducting the hearing also makes the decision to revoke or not.
The Parole Board considers a number of variables when deciding whether to release an inmate to parole: the inmate’s criminal record; the nature and circumstances of the offense for which the inmate was committed to the DOC; the inmate’s behavioral history while incarcerated; participation in treatment and programs; and current psychological and medical evaluations. The Parole Board also must consider the inmate’s risk assessment score and apply the current parole guidelines, as set out in statute.
The parole guidelines law also sets out nine mitigating factors the board may consider when deciding whether to parole an inmate:
- the offender was a passive or minor participant in the crime;
- the victim precipitated the crime or somehow provoked the incident;
- there was substantial justification for the offense;
- the crime was committed under duress or coercion;
- the offender has no past record or a long crime-free period;
- the offender voluntarily acknowledges wrongdoing;
- the offender has family obligations and further incarceration would cause undue hardship on dependents;
- the rehabilitation of the offender would be enhanced by imposing a shorter period of incarceration; and
- the offender has attempted compensation to the victim.
The parole guidelines legislation lists 15 aggravating factors for the Parole Board to consider:
- the offender inflicted serious bodily injury or a high degree of cruelty;
- the offender was armed with deadly weapons;
- the crime involved multiple victims;
- the crime involved particularly vulnerable victims;
- the victim was a judicial or law enforcement officer;
- the offender displays a pattern of violent conduct;
- the offender was on parole or probation for another felony at commission;
- the offender was in confinement or on escape status at commission;
- the offender induced others in commission of offense;
- the offender took advantage of a position of trust;
- the offender either paid to have the crime committed or was paid to commit the crime;
- the crime was premeditated;
- the crime was drug or contraband related;
- the offender was on bond for a previous felony during commission; and
- the offender has increasingly serious convictions, juvenile or adult.
The Division of Adult Parole is responsible for supervising adult parolees who have been released to the community by the Parole Board. The division is organized into four state-wide regions (Denver, Northeast, Southeast, and Western) and operates 19 offices throughout the state. As of June 30, 2006, community parole officers (CPOs) supervised 6,551 parolees in Colorado. Caseload ratios for CPOs with regular parole cases is 73:1. Officers with a strict Intensive Supervision Program – Parole (ISP-P) caseload have a ratio of 26:1. CPOs are peace officers and have arrest powers and may carry firearms.General Statutory Duties
The Division of Adult Parole is statutorily responsible for the following:
- establishing and administering appropriate programs of education and treatment to assist in offender rehabilitation; and
- keeping a complete record of all domestic and interstate parolees.
Community parole officers and parole violators. The statutes and administrative regulations outline the responsibilities of CPOs. In some cases, CPO’s have discretion to decide how to proceed after a suspected parole violation while in other cases they do not. When discretion is given, administrative regulations require the CPO to meet with a supervisor to decide on a response.
The statutes provide that if the CPO makes an arrest rather than issuing a summons, the parolee is to be held in custody. After completing an investigation, the CPO has the following options:
- file a complaint with the Parole Board and continue to hold the parolee in custody;
- order the release of the parolee and request that any warrant be quashed and that any complaint be dismissed and parole restored; or
- order the release of the parolee and issue a summons requiring the parolee to appear before the Parole Board to answer the charges.
The statutes additionally spell out when a CPO may arrest a parolee in order to begin revocation proceedings. A CPO may make an arrest when:
- he or she has a warrant for the parolee’s arrest;
- he or she has probable cause to believe that an arrest warrant has been issued for the parolee in this or another state for a crime or for violation of a condition of parole;
- the parolee has committed a crime in the presence of the CPO;
- the CPO has probable cause to believe that the parolee has committed a crime;
- the CPO has probable cause to believe that the parolee has violated a condition of parole, that the parolee is leaving or is about to leave the state, or that the parolee will fail to appear before the board to answer charges of violations of the conditions of parole; or
- the parolee has been tested for illegal controlled substances and the test was positive.
Colorado law requires that all convicted felons in the criminal justice system be assessed for drug use. Therefore, as a condition of parole, every parolee is required to submit to random drug and alcohol testing.
The statutes spell out specific CPO responsibilities when a parolee tests positive for illegal controlled substances. For the first positive test, the CPO may:
- make an immediate warrantless arrest;
- immediately increase the level of supervision including intensive supervision;
- begin random screenings for detecting illegal controlled substance use, which may serve as the basis for any other community placement; or
- refer the parolee to a substance abuse treatment program.
For a second or subsequent positive test for illegal controlled substances, in addition to1 making an immediate arrest, increasing the level of supervision, or referring the parolee to a substance abuse treatment program, the CPO may:
- seek parole revocation; or
- increase the number of drug screenings for the presence of illegal controlled substances.
A final responsibility of the division is to classify inmates in order to determine the level of parole supervision. The division uses a supervision classification instrument which provides CPOs with a tool to develop an appropriate supervision plan and establish and administer appropriate education and treatment programs and other productive activities to assist in offender rehabilitation. Supervision classification tools also provide CPOs with a prediction as to the risk of reoffending while on parole.
Offenders are generally assessed within the first 30 days of their release from prison and are reassessed every six months. The division classifies inmates in seven levels: new, unclassified, intensive supervision, maximum, medium, minimum, and administrative.
- Under the Intensive Supervision Program, parolees have one personal contact with the CPO or program staff per week at any location, one personal home visit within the first 30 days of release and upon each change of residence, employment visitation and monitoring at least twice per month, monthly contact with program staff at any location to verify participation in treatment, and daily phone contact.
- Under maximum supervision, parolees must have two personal contacts per month, one personal home visit within the first 30 days of release and upon each change of residence, bi-monthly employment visits, and monthly contact with program staff to verify participation in treatment.
- Under medium supervision, parolees have one personal contact per month, one personal home visit within the first 30 days of release and upon each change of residence, quarterly employment visits, and monthly contact with program staff to verify participation in treatment.
- Under minimum supervision, parolees have no quarterly personal contacts with the CPO, one personal home visit within the first 30 days of release and upon each change of residence, quarterly employment visits, and monthly contact with program staff to verify participation in treatment.
Revoking an inmate’s parole necessitates interaction between the Division of Adult Parole Services and the Parole Board. The Division of Adult Parole Services is responsible for monitoring the inmate while in the community on parole and for reporting that inmate to the Parole Board when the inmate violates a condition of parole. The Parole Board is esponsible for providing the inmate with a hearing and deciding whether the inmate should remain on parole.CPOs and the revocation process. CPOs are generally the starting point for the revocation process. Statutes dictate that a CPO may arrest a parolee for specific reasons.
Pursuant to administrative regulations of the DOC, revocation complaints filed by CPOs are either mandatory or discretionary. When a parolee commits certain offenses, the CPO is required to file a complaint in order to begin revocation proceedings (this does not mean the offender’s parole is required to be revoked). For other offenses, the CPO uses discretion in deciding whether to begin revocation proceedings.Mandatory Complaint Offenses
Mandatory complaint offenses include the following:
- possession or use of a firearm or deadly weapon;
- an arrest and charge for any felony;
- an arrest and charge for a crime of violence as defined in Section 16-1-104 (8.5), C.R.S.;
- an arrest and charge for a misdemeanor assault involving a deadly weapon or resulting in bodily injury to the victim;
- an arrest and charge for unlawful sexual contact;
- refusal to submit to urinalysis to determine the presence of drugs or alcohol;
- an arrest and charge or conviction for any municipal offense, involving assaultive offenses, against the person;
- failure to make an initial report to a CPO upon release to parole supervision;
- refusal to allow a search of his or her person, residence, or premises or vehicle under his or her control;
- leaving the state without lawful permission;
- being found within the boundaries of a county which is not the parolee’s residence of record, and where a correctional facility is located;
- being found within the boundaries of a county which is not the parolee’s residence of record, and within the boundaries of state property; and
- absconding from parole supervision.
CPOs have the discretion to file or not to file a complaint for a parole violation that does not require mandatory action, based upon the circumstances of the complaint. Administrative regulations provide that discretionary decisions are determined on a caseby- case basis. Such decisions are made for offenses including but not limited to the following:
- technical parole violations such as failure to file a change of address, refusing to allow a search, or refusing to comply with a special condition of supervision; and
- a positive test for the presence of drugs or alcohol. In making a decision to file or not to file a complaint for a parole violation, CPOs are required to consult with a supervisor and to consider several factors:
- public safety;
- the current offense;
- prior arrest or technical parole violations during the current period of parole supervision;
- history of prior parole/probation failures;
- pattern of repetitive criminal behavior;
- history of alcohol/drug use and dependency;
- likelihood of a positive response to counseling/treatment for the observed behavior problems;
- availability of appropriate community treatment resources; and
- the use and/or availability of intermediate sanctions.
Statutes and administrative regulations provide that revocation hearings are to be conducted by a single Parole Board member or by an Administrative Hearings Officer (AHO). In general, if the board member or AHO determines that 11the parolee violated a condition of parole, he or she may either revoke the parole, continue the parole in effect, or continue the parole with modified parole conditions. If parole is revoked, the board member or AHO is required to provide the parolee with a written statement of the evidence relied on and the reasons for revoking parole. Specifically, the board member or AHO may make a decision as follows:
- if the board determines that the parolee has violated parole by committing a crime, the board may revoke parole and have the parolee transported to a place of confinement designated by the DOC executive director;
- if the board determines that the parolee has violated a condition of parole other than a new crime, the board may:
- revoke parole and place the parolee in a place of confinement determined by the DOC executive director;
- revoke parole for up to 180 days and place the offender in a community corrections facility, a place of confinement within the DOC, or any private facility under contract to the DOC;
- revoke parole for up to 90 days and place the offender in any private facility under contract to the DOC; or
- revoke parole for up to 180 days and place the offender in a return-to-custody facility;
- if the board determines that the parolee has violated any condition of parole, other than a new crime, and the parolee was on parole for a class 5 or class 6 non-violent felony except for menacing or unlawful sexual behavior or an offense against an at-risk adult or juvenile or a domestic violence offense, the board may revoke parole for up to 180 days;
- if the board determines the parolee violated any condition of parole, other than a new crime, and the parolee was not on parole for a crime of violence, the board may:
- revoke parole for up to 180 days in a place of confinement determined by the DOC executive director;
- revoke parole for up to 180 days and place the offender in a community corrections program; or
- revoke parole for up to 180 days and place the parolee in a return-to-custody facility.
After a period of decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the parole population is increasing and is expected to continue to increase significantly. From 1988 through 1994, the parole population decreased 30 percent. This decrease was primarily due to legislation adopted in 1990 which awarded earned time to offenders while on parole. However, this legislation was amended since that time as reflected by variations in the parole population. Currently, only non-violent offenders may receive earned time while on parole. Based on parole population projections by Legislative Council Staff, populations are expected to steadily increase. This increase will primarily be due to legislation adopted in 1993 which mandates that all offenders serve a period of parole.Factors Driving the Parole Population
Two factors drive the growth in the parole population: the number of releases to parole and the length of stay on parole. Both of these components have been significantly influenced by the implementation of mandatory parole. House Bill 93-1302 created mandatory parole for all inmates released from prison who committed a crime on or after July 1, 1993. Beginning in FY 1995-96, the parole population began to grow due to the flow of inmates with mandatory parole sentences that were completing their prison sentences. As a result of mandatory parole, the parole population more than tripled from June 1995 to June 2006.
Before mandatory parole, the Parole Board tended to grant parole for those near the end of their sentences in order to provide some period of supervision in a community placement. Otherwise, inmates could discharge their sentence in prison and avoid a supervised transition to the general public. Therefore, some inmates were placed on parole before their sentences were discharged in prison and other inmates discharged their sentences in prison and re-entered the
general public. With mandatory parole, every inmate receives an additional supervision period after the prison sentence. In the late 1990s, as the number of “mandatory parole” inmates approached the end of their prison sentence, the number of discretionary parolees (or “early” releases) decreased and mandatory parolees increased.
Mandatory parole also had the consequence of increasing the length of stay on parole. Before mandatory parole, the Parole Board could discharge a parolee once it determined that the parolee could no longer benefit from supervision. With mandatory parole, there is a minimum period for parolees to serve. While mandatory parole initially increased the average length of stay on parole, from a low of 9.5 months in 1991 to a high of 15.8 months in 2003, the average length of stay on parole has steadily dropped since then to 14.4 months in 2006.
Credit for this article is given to the Colorado Legislative Council Staff