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Discretionary Parole State Board of Parole Performance Audit, CO State Auditor, 2008

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REPORT OF
THE
STATE AUDITOR

Discretionary Parole
State Board of Parole
Performance Audit
November 2008

LEGISLATIVE AUDIT COMMITTEE
2008 MEMBERS
Representative James Kerr
Chair

Representative Dianne Primavera
Vice-Chair

Senator Jim Isgar
Representative Rosemary Marshall
Representative Frank McNulty
Senator David Schultheis
Senator Jack Taylor
Senator Lois Tochtrop
Office of the State Auditor Staff
Sally Symanski
State Auditor

Cindi Stetson
Deputy State Auditor

Jennifer Harmon
Julie Chickillo
Kate Shiroff
Trey Standley
Legislative Auditors

STATE OF COLORADO
OFFICE OF THE STATE AUDITOR
303.869.2800
FAX 303.869.3060

Sally Symanski, CPA
State Auditor
Legislative Services Building
200 East 14th Avenue
Denver, Colorado 80203-2211

November 24, 2008

Members of the Legislative Audit Committee:
This report contains the results of a performance audit of the discretionary parole
process administered by the State Board of Parole. The audit was conducted pursuant to
Section 2-3-103, C.R.S., which authorizes the State Auditor to conduct audits of all
departments, institutions, and agencies of state government. The report presents our
findings, conclusions, and recommendations, and the responses of the State Board of Parole,
Department of Corrections, and Division of Criminal Justice at the Department of Public
Safety.

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1

Discretionary Parole
Authority, Purpose, and Scope
This performance audit was conducted in response to a legislative request for a
review of statistics and reports related to mandatory and discretionary parole
releases. Specifically, data reported by the Department of Corrections (Department)
in December 2007 indicated that discretionary parole releases had increased by
80 percent from Fiscal Year 2006 to 2007. The Office of the State Auditor was
asked to determine the reasons for the significant increase in discretionary parole
releases, analyze changes in discretionary parole figures, and evaluate whether
consistent and effective systems exist to capture and compare data on discretionary
and mandatory parole releases. The audit evaluated significant trends in parole and
the accuracy, reliability, and usefulness of parole data currently available and
reported by the Department and State Board of Parole (Board). Additionally, our
audit evaluated the Board’s practices for reviewing its parole decision-making
process and the outcomes of its decisions.
This audit was conducted under the authority of Section 2-3-103, C.R.S., which
authorizes the State Auditor to conduct audits of all departments, institutions, and
agencies of state government. The audit was conducted in accordance with generally
accepted government auditing standards and performed from July through September
2008. As part of our audit we interviewed staff at the Department, Board, and the
Division of Criminal Justice (Division) at the Department of Public Safety, attended
Board hearings, surveyed parole boards in other states, and reviewed research on best
practices for assessing and evaluating parole board decisions. We acknowledge the
assistance and cooperation provided by the Department, Board, and Division.
Overall we found that no single source of parole data exists to provide decisionmakers with the information needed to develop and evaluate parole policies in the
State. Data maintained by the Board need to be enhanced to provide more
comprehensive information to measure outcomes and support parole decisions. Data
maintained by the Department need to be recorded accurately to ensure consistent
reporting and analysis over time. Differences in the data reported by the Board and
the Department need to be explained so that the different perspectives of the Board
and Department are understood and erroneous conclusions do not result. We address
these issues later in this report.

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Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

Despite the problems we found with existing parole data, we were able to further
analyze the data and report certain basic parole trends that describe Colorado’s
parole practices and which may facilitate decision-making, as follows:
•

The total number of paroles granted (mandatory and discretionary) by the
Board in Colorado increased by about 34 percent from Fiscal Year 2004
through Fiscal Year 2008. Mandatory paroles increased by 30 percent, and
discretionary paroles increased by 41 percent during this period.

•

The one-year increase in the number of discretionary paroles granted by the
Board was about 35 percent, from 2,000 in Fiscal Year 2006 to 2,700 in
Fiscal Year 2007. This contrasts with the 80 percent increase in
discretionary parole releases reported by the Department and referenced
earlier in this report.

•

The majority of paroles in Colorado are mandatory, and the Board does not
have the discretion (or statutory authority) to deny them. In Fiscal Year 2008
the Board granted a total of 7,100 paroles. More than 60 percent (4,300) of
these were mandatory paroles and almost 40 percent (2,800) were
discretionary paroles. The percentage of mandatory and discretionary
paroles has been fairly stable from Fiscal Year 2004 through Fiscal Year
2008.

•

More than three-quarters of discretionary parole requests are denied by the
Board. For example, in Fiscal Year 2008 the Board denied 15,000, or
84 percent, of the 17,800 requests for discretionary parole.

In the following section we provide additional detail regarding each of these points,
as well as other descriptive information and statistics about mandatory and
discretionary parole. In the second section of the report we present our findings
related to improving the accuracy and usefulness of parole data.

Description of the Parole System
In the criminal justice system, parole generally refers to the supervised release of an
inmate from incarceration before the completion of his or her sentence. Technically,
offenders are still serving their sentence while on parole. One purpose of parole is
to provide offenders a period of transition back into the community while still under
the supervision of the correctional system. It is important to note that parole differs
from probation in that probation is a sentencing option imposed by a judge that does
not place an offender in a correctional facility.
According to Colorado’s current sentencing laws [Section 18-1.3-401(1)(a)(V)(A)
and (B), C.R.S.], all offenders who are convicted after July 1, 1993, and sentenced

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

3

to a term of incarceration, other than offenders who have been convicted of a Class
1 felony or who are on death row, must serve both a prison sentence and a required
period of parole prior to discharge from the correctional system. In other words, an
offender’s sentence includes both periods of incarceration and parole. As a result,
the majority (97 percent) of offenders released in Colorado as of Fiscal Year 2007
were subject to a law requiring parole after release from prison. The remaining
3 percent of offenders were sentenced prior to 1993 and therefore, were not subject
to a required period of parole.
In Colorado there are two categories of parole: mandatory and discretionary.
Generally, mandatory parole refers to the release of an offender on the latest possible
date under the offender’s sentence that he or she can be paroled. Discretionary
parole refers to the early release of an offender (i.e., anytime between his or her
parole eligibility date and mandatory parole date). Most offenders are eligible for
discretionary parole once they have served one-half of their sentence less earned time
received. An offender receives “earned time” for acceptable behavior while
incarcerated. In general, the earliest an offender can be eligible for parole is after
serving 37.5 percent of his or her sentence. Certain violent offenders, defined in
statute, must serve 75 percent of their sentence, less earned time, before becoming
eligible for parole. Despite the possibility of discretionary parole, 65 percent of
offenders are not released to parole until their mandatory parole date. That is, most
offenders are incarcerated for the maximum period allowable.

State Board of Parole
The State Board of Parole is a Type 1 agency within the Department of Corrections
and is charged with conducting parole hearings for every offender applying for
parole. As a Type 1 agency, the Board operates independently of the Department.
The Department has no authority over Board decisions, policies, or procedures. The
Board consists of a full-time Chair as well as six full-time members, all of whom are
salaried and appointed by the Governor to serve three-year terms. By statute
[Section 17-2-201(1)(a), C.R.S.] all Board members must have knowledge of parole,
rehabilitation, correctional administration, the criminal justice system, and victims’
issues. Two members must have law enforcement backgrounds, one member must
have been a parole or probation officer, and four members are considered citizen
members with no specific background required. The Board Chair is the
administrative head of the Board and is responsible for establishing procedures for
Board hearings and policies for the conduct of Board members.
Most parole hearings are conducted by a single Board member, either at the
correctional facility where the offender is located or through a teleconference. At the
hearing, a case manager provides the Board member with information on the parole
applicant, such as criminal history, substance abuse history and treatment, behavior

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Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

while incarcerated, and vocational abilities. The Board member then conducts an
interview with the offender and gives the offender an opportunity to explain his or
her progress toward rehabilitation and parole plans following release. As part of the
hearing, the Board member must allow the victim or the victim’s
representative—and may also allow the offender’s family—to make statements.
Although there is no time limit, the Board Chair estimates that each hearing takes an
average of 20 minutes. In Fiscal Year 2008, the Board conducted a total of about
17,800 parole (mandatory and discretionary) application hearings. While individual
caseloads vary, some Board members report conducting as many as 40 hearings
during a day.

Parole Decisions
By statute [Section 17-22.5-404, C.R.S.], Board members must consider various
mitigating and aggravating factors in making their parole decisions. These factors
include criminal history, behavior while incarcerated, and statistical risk assessment
scores. Although statute mandates these factors be considered, it does not specify
the weight that must be placed on each factor or limit the Board from considering
additional factors. Each Board member works autonomously and has discretion,
with second signature approval by another Board member, to grant or deny
discretionary parole. The Board documents its overall decision to grant or deny
parole, but does not fully document the rationale for its decisions. Parole decisions
may take any of the following forms:
•

Deny Parole. If the Board member denies parole, statute requires in most
cases that the Board member set a date for a new hearing within one year.

•

Grant Discretionary Parole. The offender is granted parole on a date set
by the Board member prior to the offender’s mandatory release date.

•

Grant Discretionary Parole with Conditions. The offender is granted a
discretionary parole subject to conditions, such as completion of a substance
abuse program or vocational training prior to release. If the offender does
not meet these conditions, he or she will not be paroled.

•

Mandatory Parole Release.
mandatory parole date.

•

Refer to Full Board. If a Board member recommends granting discretionary
parole to a violent offender, Board policy requires that the case must be
referred to the full Board for its review and approval before the offender can
be released. Board members, at their discretion, may also refer non-violent

The offender is paroled on his or her

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

5

offenders for a full Board decision. At the full Board hearing, at least four
members of the Board must approve the decision.
In granting parole, the Board member also sets conditions an offender must follow
upon release to parole, such as regular drug and alcohol testing and avoiding contact
with the victim. With the exception of full Board hearings, as mentioned previously,
a Board member’s decision receives final approval through review and signature by
a second Board member. The Board does not maintain data on the number of times
Board member’s decisions are not approved by a second signature; however, Board
members indicated it is rare that another Board member fails to approve the decision.
After being paroled, if an offender does not follow the conditions of the parole or is
arrested for a new offense, the Board may revoke the parole. A revocation hearing
is conducted by a single Board member, and if revocation is necessary, the member
will revoke parole for a set period of time. Statutes [Sections 17-2-103(11) and 1722.5-403(9), C.R.S.] provide the maximum time limits for parole revocation and
require that certain offenders must periodically receive new parole hearings during
the revocation period.
The Board is entirely funded through general funds. During Fiscal Year 2008 the
Board was appropriated and expended about $1.6 million in general funds.
Additionally, during this same fiscal year the Board was appropriated 17.5 FTE,
which includes the Board members and administrative staff. The Board Chair is
authorized to contract with qualified individuals to serve as hearing officers. These
individuals conduct hearings in the same manner as the Board members but may only
conduct hearings for offenders convicted of less serious Classes 4 through 6 felonies.
According to the Board Chair, the use of contract hearing officers is limited to
periods when the caseload exceeds the amount Board members can reasonably
accomplish within a required timeframe.

Other Agencies Involved with the Parole System
Statutes, including Section 17-22.5-404(6), C.R.S., require multiple entities, such as
the Board, Department of Corrections, and the Division of Criminal Justice to jointly
administer the parole system and parole guidelines. While the Board has sole
authority to hear and decide applications for parole, the Department and Division
have important roles in administering and evaluating the parole system and providing
Board members, policymakers, and other state agencies with information necessary
to make informed decisions about parole policy and the correctional system.

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Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

Department of Corrections
The Department manages 22 state and oversees 6 private correctional facilities
across the State. As of September 2008, it supervised an offender population of over
34,000 individuals, including incarcerated adult offenders, offenders in the youthful
offender system, and offenders who have been released on parole. The Department
is responsible for administering each phase of the parole process. Once an offender
is admitted to a correctional facility, the Department’s Time and Release Unit tracks
the offender’s sentence to determine a parole eligibility date and notifies the Board
when the offender is eligible for a hearing. At the parole hearing, Department case
managers prepare and present information about the offender. If an offender is
granted parole, the Department is responsible for releasing the offender in
accordance with the Board’s decision and ensuring that any conditions of release are
met. After an offender is released to parole, the Department’s Division of Adult
Parole is responsible for assigning a parole officer and supervising the parolee.
The Department relies on its central database, the Department of Corrections
Information System (DCIS), to monitor and manage the offender population and
provide information for parole hearings. This database is the central repository for
all information about offenders and is designed to provide current, “point in time”
information. Department staff use the database for a variety of purposes, including
determining parole eligibility, monitoring release dates, and preparing case files for
parole hearings. Additionally, the Department uses data in DCIS to regularly prepare
and report statistical information on the correctional system and prison population,
including parole. This information is made available to the general public on the
Department’s website and is widely distributed to and used by agencies such as the
Division, Office of Legislative Council, and General Assembly.

The Division of Criminal Justice
Statute [Section 24-33.5-503, C.R.S.] requires the Department of Public Safety’s
Division of Criminal Justice to work “in cooperation with other agencies, to collect
and disseminate information concerning crime and criminal justice for the purpose
of assisting the general assembly and of enhancing the quality of criminal justice at
all levels of government in this state.” The Division administers a statistical analysis
center that conducts research and presents numerous reports on a variety of subjects,
including effective recidivism reduction programs, population projections, and
standards for the supervision of sex offenders. The Division also creates statistical
risk assessment tools to assist the Board in making parole decisions and evaluating
the risk posed by sex offenders.

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

7

Parole Trends
We were asked to report on changes in parole trends, particularly with respect to
discretionary parole. In general, over the past five Fiscal Years (2004 through 2008),
the majority (65 percent) of paroles granted were mandatory; that is, the Board was
required to release the offender because the offender was at the end of his or her
prison sentence. During this period an average of 35 percent of paroles were
discretionary. For discretionary paroles, the Board releases offenders before their
mandatory parole dates based on the Board's assessment of the offenders' readiness
for parole. The following table shows mandatory and discretionary parole statistics
for Fiscal Years 2004 through 2008.
State Board of Parole
Type of Parole Granted to Offenders1
Fiscal Years 2004 Through 2008
Fiscal Year
Total
Paroled
2004Offenders Percent Offenders Percent Offenders Percent Offenders Percent Offenders Percent
2008
Paroled of Total Paroled of Total Paroled of Total Paroled of Total Paroled of Total
2004

Type of Parole

2005

2006

2007

2008

Percent
of Total
Paroled

Discretionary

2,000

38%

1,600

28%

2,000

32%

2,700

39%

2,800

39%

11,100

35%

Mandatory

3,300

62%

4,100

72%

4,300

68%

4,300

61%

4,300

61%

20,300

65%

Total Paroles

5,300

100%

5,700

100%

6,300

100%

7,000

100%

7,100

100%

31,400

100%

Source: Office of the State Auditor’s analysis of State Board of Parole data.
1
Does not include re-paroles (offenders who have been released again on parole after having their prior parole revoked).

The table shows the number of both mandatory and discretionary paroles has
increased over the five-year period; however, as noted previously, the percentage of
mandatory paroles compared with discretionary paroles has remained relatively
constant over this time period.
As discussed earlier, the Board hears a large volume of discretionary parole requests
annually, and the Board denies most of these requests. The following table shows
the number and percentage of discretionary parole applications granted or denied for
the past five years.

8

Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

State Board of Parole
Offenders Granted or Denied Discretionary Parole1
Fiscal Years 2004 Through 2008
Fiscal Year
Total
Denied/ Percent
Percent
Percent
Percent
Percent
Percent Granted of Total
Denied/
2004of
of
of
of
of
Granted
2008
Offenders
Total
Offenders Total Offenders Total Offenders Total Offenders Total
2004

Discretionary
Parole

2005

2006

2007

2008

Denied

13,700

87%

14,100

90%

14,100

88%

15,300

85%

15,000

84%

72,200

87%

Granted

2,000

13%

1,600

10%

2,000

12%

2,700

15%

2,800

16%

11,100

13%

Total Hearings

15,700

100%

15,700

100%

16,100

100%

18,000

100%

17,800

100%

83,300

100%

Source: Office of the State Auditor’s analysis of State Board of Parole data.
1
Does not include re-paroles (offenders who have been released again on parole after having their prior parole revoked).

The table shows that, on average, the Board denied about 87 percent of discretionary
parole requests between Fiscal Years 2004 and 2008. The percentage of denied
requests decreased from 87 to 84 percent, while the percentage of granted requests
increased from 13 to 16 percent during the same period.

External Factors
There are a number of external factors that influence parole statistics at both state
and national levels. Although no single factor can fully explain parole trends, we
identified some significant changes that have occurred in the criminal justice system
over the past several years that impact changes in the number of mandatory and
discretionary paroles. These factors can affect the number of offenders eligible for
parole at any given point in time:
State Prison Population. The number of mandatory and discretionary paroles
granted is partially driven by the State’s overall prison population, which has
increased substantially in recent years. According to the Department, from June
2004 to September 2008 the inmate population rose from about 19,500 to about
23,100 (18 percent). Parole releases may not necessarily parallel prison population
increases; however, an overall increase in the prison population will eventually
increase the number of offenders paroled.
State Sentencing Laws. A reduction in sentencing length can temporarily increase
the number of offenders eligible for parole, and an increase in sentence length may
have the opposite effect. For example, Senate Bill 03-318 [Section 18-18-404,
C.R.S.] reduced sentences for the use of certain drugs from felony Classes 4 and 5

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

9

to a felony Class 6. This reduction in felony class decreased the sentences for these
drug crimes from four years to two years. Thus, offenders sentenced under the new
law are eligible for parole earlier than under previous sentencing laws, and between
Fiscal Years 2003 and 2007 the total number of Class 6 offenders paroled increased
by more than 100 percent. Conversely, House Bill 04-1189, increased the amount
of time violent offenders must be incarcerated before becoming eligible for parole.
Specifically, certain violent offenders must now serve 75 percent, as opposed to
50 percent, of their sentence before becoming eligible for parole. Since offenders are
incarcerated for an average of 29 months, it may take several years for the impact of
this sentencing law to affect parole rates.
State Inmate Programs. The availability of inmate programs, such as substance
abuse treatment and education, may also affect parole decisions. Several Board
members indicated that the completion of substance abuse programs is often a
significant consideration in their evaluation of an offender’s application for parole
and that they are likely to view an offender as a better candidate for parole when the
offender has completed such treatment. The Department reports that in Fiscal Year
2007 about 82 percent of inmates sentenced to prison had some substance abuse
problems, and 17 percent were severe. According to the Department, it has not
always been able to provide offenders with the necessary treatment services due to
budget constraints.

Parole Trends in Other States
As part of our analysis of parole trends, we analyzed national parole research
conduced by the U.S. Department of Justice. Nationwide, in recent years more states
have adopted mandatory parole to ensure all offenders receive a period of parole
supervision following their release from prison. As a result, fewer offenders have
been released on discretionary parole, and more offenders have been released on
mandatory parole. Specifically, between 1980 and 2000 the percentage of offenders
released on mandatory parole more than doubled, while the percentage of those
released on discretionary parole fell by almost half. Following this trend, Colorado
first adopted mandatory parole in 1979 and experienced an increase in mandatory
parole releases.
Additionally, we found a wide variation among the states in the amount of discretion
vested in parole boards and equivalent agencies. According to U.S. Department of
Justice statistics, as of Calendar Year 2000, 16 states, including Kansas, Arizona, and
California, had either abolished discretionary parole or limited its use to a small
fraction of offenders. In these states, the point at which offenders are eligible for
parole is determined by statute; that is, the parole board generally has no discretion
over when to release an offender on parole. The remaining 34 states, including
Colorado, give their parole boards full discretion to release most offenders on

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Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

discretionary parole, although some states limit the board’s discretion for certain
violent offenders.

Parole Board Decision Outcomes
A 2008 report published by the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Institute of
Corrections, Comprehensive Framework for Paroling Authorities, emphasizes the
importance of two practices with respect to parole decisions: (1) measuring the
outcome of parole decisions to increase accountability and ensure decision integrity,
and (2) using evidence-based models to support decision-making. Specifically, the
report states that “paroling authorities and supervision agencies must routinely
measure intermediate and long-term outcomes . . . .[P]roviding performance
feedback increases accountability and ensures integrity with the mission.” It also
states that “evidence-based models ensure that all board members are aligned with
the mission and goals of the agency and that paroling decisions are based on factors
that can be evaluated to determine if they are consistent with the strategies that
current research indicates support successful transition and reentry.”
The trend toward using evidence-based models for decision-making in the
correctional system is evident within many states, including Colorado. For example,
the General Assembly established the Colorado Commission on Criminal and
Juvenile Justice through House Bill 07-1358 for the sole purpose of engaging in “an
evidence-based analysis of the criminal justice system in Colorado . . . .” Moreover,
statute [Section 17-2-201(4)(a), C.R.S.] requires that the Board grant discretionary
parole to eligible offenders only when “there is a strong and reasonable probability
that the person will not thereafter violate the law and that release of such person from
institutional custody is compatible with the welfare of society.” Although the Board
members’ discretion is central to the parole decision-making process in Colorado,
there is also need to ensure that there is a rational and objective basis for those
decisions.
We reviewed parole decision data collected by the Board and found the Board lacks
data to demonstrate assurance that its parole decisions comply with the statutory
requirement that eligible offenders only be released when there is a strong possibility
the inmate will not reoffend. We found problems in two areas. First, we found that
although the Board considers a number of aggravating and mitigating factors during
its parole hearings and compiles and reports basic data on the types and numbers of
paroles granted, it does not routinely collect data on the outcomes of its decisions,
such as whether or not the offender commits another crime. Second, we found that
the Board cannot demonstrate that it makes full use of evidence-based research to
support its decision-making. Because the Board does not collect and review data
related to its decisions including the outcomes of its decisions, or make full use of

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

11

evidence-based research, it cannot ensure that offender transitions from incarceration
to the community are likely to be successful.
Statute [Section 17-22.5-404, C.R.S.] specifically outlines a process for the Parole
Board to report parole decisions to the Division of Criminal Justice so that the
Division can analyze the decisions and provide feedback to the Board on outcomes.
The purpose of this requirement is to identify the factors the Board is using to
support its decisions and to determine whether those factors have a research basis.
Prior to 1996, the Board and Division followed the statutory process for reporting
and analyzing Board decisions. However, we found that as of July 1996, this process
was discontinued and neither entity has conducted the procedures or analysis
required by statute. It is important that the Board implement and document an
evidence-based process for making parole decisions. By keeping high-risk offenders
incarcerated and granting low-risk offenders parole when appropriate, the Board can
better ensure public safety is adequately protected and resources are efficiently used.
The Board and Division need to reinstitute the statutory process to support and
improve the Board’s decision-making practices, as described below.
First, the Board needs to document its rationale for granting or denying parole and
periodically provide these data to the Division for evaluation. As the research arm
of the criminal justice system, the Division has statistical evaluation tools that can
determine whether the Board’s rationale for granting parole is supported by
evidence-based research and whether each of the offenders paroled by the Board
successfully reintegrated back into the community. The Division should provide its
analysis of parole outcomes and rationale to the Board periodically and the Board
should review the analysis and make changes to its decision-making practices as
necessary.
Second, the Board and Division need to clearly define the terms and measures used
in evaluating parole practices. For example, recidivism rates are a frequently used
measure of offenders’ success or failure once released to parole. However, the Board
and Division do not define this term consistently. For example, the Board generally
defines recidivism as an offender’s return to prison for either violating conditions of
parole or committing a new crime. In contrast, the Division defines recidivism as an
offender’s arrest or charge for a new crime, even if the offender is not convicted and
sentenced to a period of incarceration. This issue needs to be resolved to ensure
reliable analysis and interpretation of data over time.
Third, the Board and Division need to work together to ensure the Board members
know how to interpret and use the Division’s analysis of the Board’s decisionmaking rationale. As part of this process, the Board should receive training from the
Division on the Colorado Actuarial Risk Assessment Scale (CARAS), which is a tool
the Division created for the Board’s use in determining whether an offender has a

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Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

high or low risk of being arrested or committing a new crime after release from
prison. Although Board members currently review the CARAS risk rating for each
offender, the Board and Division have not worked together to ensure that members
are properly trained and understand how the CARAS was developed and can be
relied upon when making parole decisions.
Fourth, the Board and Division need to evaluate the resources necessary to collect
and analyze data related to Board decisions and work with the General Assembly as
necessary. This process should include automating processes to improve efficiencies
for collecting and reporting parole data. Currently the Board collects data through
manual, paper processes. According to the Colorado Government Efficiency and
Management Performance Review conducted by the Governor’s Office in May 2007,
the Board’s processes could be streamlined through the use of technology. The study
recommended purchasing laptops for the Board members and providing software to
allow the Board to electronically access data on offenders; generating and modifying
hearing forms, including converting “all typewritten and handwritten Parole Board
action forms to an electronic format;” and eliminating handwritten paperwork. The
General Assembly authorized about $54,000 to the Board for this project in the
Fiscal Year 2009 Long Bill. The Board should work with the Department of
Corrections and Division to ensure that any new automated system includes data
fields and reporting capabilities that allow the Board to capture and transmit data on
the rationale for its parole decisions and facilitate analysis of parole outcomes.
Finally, the Board and Division should formalize their agreements in writing for
collecting and reporting parole data. The agreements should identify the specific
responsibilities of each agency in carrying out processes for reporting and analyzing
parole decisions, as defined in statute. The agreements, along with the steps
previously discussed, are important for providing information to policymakers and
helping them make informed decisions about parole. Recently the Governor
submitted his Fiscal Year 2010 budget request which includes additional funding for
a Crime Reduction and Recidivism Package aimed at improving public safety
through evidence-based, cost-effective reforms. The request also includes
$7.2 million in state general funds for additional substance abuse treatment services
and expanded vocational and academic programs during incarceration. This
significant investment of additional funds for recidivism and treatment programs
should be accompanied by systematic analysis and assessment of results. By
improving its efforts to measure and assess the impact of its parole decisions, the
Board can help policymakers determine whether the additional investment in
treatment programs is reducing recidivism and improving transitions for offenders.

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

13

Recommendation No. 1:
The State Board of Parole should work with the Division of Criminal Justice to
implement a process for capturing and analyzing the basis for and outcomes of its
parole decisions by:
a. Tracking data related to the Board’s rationale for granting or denying parole
and providing these data to the Division for its review and analysis. The
Board should review results of the Division’s analysis and make the
necessary changes to its decision-making practices.
b. Resolving different practices for reporting and defining terms and measures,
such as recidivism, when evaluating parole practices.
c. Ensuring the Board receives adequate feedback and training to know how the
results of the Division’s analysis, along with the Colorado Actuarial Risk
Assessment Scale, can be used to improve the Board’s decision-making
practices.
d. Determining the resources needed to collect and analyze data related to
Board decisions and working with the Department of Corrections and
General Assembly as necessary. This should include automating paper
processes to improve efficiencies for collecting and reporting parole data.
e. Identifying the specific responsibilities of the Board and Division in carrying
out processes for reporting and analyzing parole decisions as defined in
statute, and formalizing these responsibilities in writing.

State Board of Parole Response:
Agree.
a. Implementation date: July 2009. The Board has entered into preliminary
discussion with the Division of Criminal Justice to accomplish this task.
The Board has upgraded to a MSACCESS 2000 database for data
collection. The Board will work with the Division to identify a process
to transmit the necessary data for review and analysis.
b. Implementation date: Ongoing. The Board will work with the Division
and Department of Corrections to resolve different practices for defining
terms.

14

Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

c. Implementation date: Ongoing. The Board will schedule time on a
regular basis to work with the Division to know how to use the results of
the Division’s analysis, including the Colorado Actuarial Risk
Assessment Scale.
d. Implementation date: Summer 2009. The Business Technology
component of the Department of Corrections is working with the Board
and the Division to address this issue. This project is centered on an
automation of the parole hearing process. Laptop computers needed for
the project have been purchased and will be issued to Board members on
November 25, 2008. Board members are scheduled for a training session
on using the laptops the same day. The first phase of the implementation
of the project should begin soon. It will include testing the connection
capability of the laptops at the many sites throughout the state where
parole hearings are held.
e. Implementation date: March 2009. The Board will work with the
Division to develop a written agreement by March 1, 2009.

Division of Criminal Justice Response:
Agree.
a. Implementation date: July 2009. Once data are available electronically,
we will request quarterly downloads of the Colorado Actuarial Risk
Assessment Scale, the Parole Board Action Form, and other information
that may be useful to the Parole Board. Upon receipt we will analyze the
data and report the information in a quarterly memorandum to Parole
Board members.
b. Implementation date: Ongoing. We agree to define and use multiple
measures of recidivism, such as rearrest, new court filing, new
conviction, and for those convicted, their placement (e.g., on probation,
in community corrections, or in prison). We will work with the
Department of Corrections to obtain return-to-prison outcome data.
Using multiple measures of recidivism provides stakeholders with the
most comprehensive information.
c. Implementation date: Ongoing. We agree to work with the Parole Board
to discuss the results of our analysis of the Parole Board’s data and how
this information can be used to improve decision-making.

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

15

d. Implementation date: Fall 2009. The Division currently has 0.1 FTE to
perform the tasks mandated in statute. We agree to request additional
resources from the General Assembly through a decision item for the
Fiscal Year 2011 budget cycle to ensure our ability to comply with this
recommendation and the Division’s mandate.
e. Implementation date: March 2009. We will work with the Parole Board
to develop a written agreement by March 1, 2009.

Parole Statistics
Statistical data on offenders within the State’s correctional system are necessary to
effectively manage the offender population, make informed policy decisions,
evaluate outcomes, and measure the achievement of program objectives. Therefore,
it is important that state agencies responsible for collecting, compiling, and reporting
parole data do so in a way that provides policymakers and others with reliable,
complete, and meaningful information. As stated previously, our audit found that
currently no single source of parole data exists that can reliably be used to evaluate
and inform parole policy. Specifically, we found that parole statistics differ
depending upon the agency collecting and reporting the data, and explanations about
these differences are lacking. As a result, there are risks that the data could be
misinterpreted.
Parole statistics, particularly those originating with the Department, are widely
distributed to and relied upon by a variety of public and private sector entities and
individuals including federal and state policymakers, judges, district attorneys,
community advocacy groups, the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile
Justice, and other state government entities. Because of the importance of parole
data for decision-making, we reviewed the available data and identified areas for
improvement as described below.
First, we identified discrepancies between the Department’s and Board’s data that
could lead to inaccurate conclusions and misstatements. The Department counts and
reports paroles as the number of offenders who are actually released from a state
correctional facility to parole, while the Board’s statistics report paroles as the
number of decisions granting parole. The figures will differ for several reasons. For
example, when the Board grants an offender parole it may set a release date that is
several months after the parole hearing. The Board’s data will show that parole was
granted, but the Department’s data will not show the parole release until the inmate
is actually released from incarceration. In addition, even when the Board grants a
parole request, if an offender does not meet conditions set by the Board, he or she
will not be released. In this situation, the Board’s data will indicate that a parole was

16

Discretionary Parole Performance Audit - November 2008

granted, but the Department’s data will not show that a parole release occurred.
Another difference in the data reported by the Board and the Department is related
to re-paroles. The term “re-parole” refers to offenders who have been released again
on parole after having their prior parole revoked. The Department includes reparoles in its count of releases, while the Board does not include them in its decision
data.
Second, we found that the Department’s data overstate the number of discretionary
parole releases due to a change in the Board’s release policy. Specifically,
Department data indicate that discretionary parole releases increased by 80 percent
from about 2,800 in Fiscal Year 2006 to more than 5,050 in 2007. These figures are
significantly higher than the number of paroles granted by the Board during the same
time period. The reason for this discrepancy is that the Department inappropriately
included early mandatory releases and re-paroles in its count of discretionary parole
releases. In December 2005 the Board implemented a policy change allowing
offenders whose mandatory parole dates fell on a Friday, weekend day, or holiday
to be released a few days early to alleviate departmental transportation problems.
When this change occurred, the Department recorded these early mandatory releases
as discretionary releases, because technically, as defined by statute [Section 17-22.5403, C.R.S.], the Board’s approval of parole prior to an offender’s mandatory parole
date is a discretionary parole, even if the offender is released only a few days earlier
than his or her mandatory parole date. According to staff, the Department needed
to create a separate field in the database to more appropriately account for these early
releases; however, budget limitations restricted staff ability to do so in a timely
manner.
Budget constraints do not exempt agencies from providing true and accurate
information, particularly when that information is widely disseminated and used by
policymakers and others to make critical decisions about offenders and parole,
including forecasting prison populations, developing new correctional system
programs, and evaluating recidivism. The Department needs to improve the
usefulness and comprehensiveness of Colorado’s parole statistics so policymakers
can rely on the data to make informed decisions. To accomplish this, we believe the
Department and Board should work together to identify and develop a cost-effective
means of providing basic, consistent data on parole in Colorado. This could include
a single report that encompasses data currently collected by the Department and the
Board with clear definitions and descriptions of the differences in the data.
Alternatively, this could include separate reports, with data from the Department and
Board clearly explaining what the data does or does not include. Regardless of the
source, the Department and Board should resolve different practices for defining
terms to reduce erroneous conclusions on the numbers of paroles granted and
offenders released. If the Department believes it is important to provide information
on re-paroles or early mandatory releases, then it should clearly distinguish these

Report of The Colorado State Auditor

17

from other parole types. Once the Department and Board determine their respective
roles in reporting data on parole, they should formalize the agreement in writing.

Recommendation No. 2:
The State Board of Parole and Department of Corrections should work together to
ensure that accurate and meaningful data are collected and reported on parole
decisions by the Board and parole releases by the Department. This reporting should
include information that is useful for policymakers to identify trends, understand
changes, and make appropriate decisions. Further, the Board and Department should
ensure mutual understanding of their duties related to the reporting of parole
decisions by formalizing the process in a memorandum of agreement.

State Board of Parole Response:
Agree. Implementation date: January, 2009.
The State Board of Parole concurs with the response of the Department of
Corrections. Reporting needs of the Board and the Department differ, but it
is recognized that any conflict in the statistical reporting should be explained.
The Parole Board will include a caveat to address this issue in any future
publication including the Board’s annual report.

Department of Corrections Response:
Agree. Implementation date: January 2009.
The Department of Corrections is in agreement with this recommendation
and will cooperate with the Parole Board to clarify why certain data reported
by the Board may appear to be in conflict with the Department’s data. The
Department will report data and trends on parole releases but will discontinue
reporting Board decisions. By January 2009, the Department will meet with
the Board to discuss language that can be added to each agency’s respective
statistical reports to distinguish and report difference in terms such as
decisions versus releases, statistical methods, and data interpretations,
particularly as they relate to trends, changes, and decision-making. The
Department will work with the Board to document each agency’s reporting
responsibilities in a memorandum of agreement. Additionally, as of
December 2008, the Department will begin separate tracking of “weekend
releases” to identify offenders who are released a few days prior to their
mandatory parole date.

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The electronic version of this report is available on the website of the
Office of the State Auditor
www.state.co.us/auditor

A bound report may be obtained by calling the
Office of the State Auditor
303.869.2800
Please refer to the Report Control Number below when requesting this report.

Report Control Number 1975

 

 

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