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What is Colorado’s special needs parole process, and is it working?

| Jan 25, 2021 | Criminal Defense

Here’s a bit of number-crunched data relevant to Colorado’s penal system that is immediately notable and concerning: Reportedly, more than 1,200 inmates are over 60 years of age and at heightened risk from Covid-19.

That is serious news, given that 8,000-plus incarcerated individuals in the state have already tested positive for the debilitating and often deadly virus.

There is broad consensus that an appreciable number of those older prisoners no longer pose – if they ever did – material risks to the public from violent tendencies.

That is a point prominently stressed in a recent national media piece conveying the view of many criminal law reform advocates and justice principals. They argue that a significant number of older offenders “who do not pose a threat to society and who need medical treatment for serious, chronic health conditions or mental illnesses” should be quickly released from confinement.

That has turned out to be easier said that done. The state justice system operates a special needs parole system, but there is bipartisan consensus that the release process woefully underperforms.

There is strong evidence supporting that. Data collected by state lawmakers underscores that only 6 of 72 applications for early release under the special needs program that were submitted in a recent measuring period were approved. Some people actually died with pending applications.

One prominent reformer who is working on a prospective law to better the special needs system calls the current process “fundamentally broken.” She says that the state’s Department of Corrections is too lax/slow in identifying eligible applicants and expediting their paperwork to the Colorado parole board.

Others agree. A spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis recently called for “more responsive consideration for release to parole through special needs parole.”

We will keep readers timely informed concerning special needs parole reform efforts and outcomes.

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