Imagine getting released from prison, determined never to go back. You reconnect with your family, reestablish ties in your community and are looking for, or have obtained, employment. Life is good and getting back to normal. Or so you might think, until your parole officer snatches you up and sends you back to prison, not because you did anything wrong, but because someone made a sentencing error.
Scenes like this are playing out all over Colorado, including in prison cells where inmates who have crossed off days, months, or years on their calendars and can almost taste freedom are having their dreams dashed because someone made a mistake in calculating their sentence.
A review of sentences of inmates in Colorado was ordered after it was discovered that Evan Ebel, who is the prime suspect in the murders of Tom Clements and Nathan Leon, was released early (see Reentry Central 3-20-13, Breaking News: Head of Colorado Department of Corrections Murdered). The murders made international news because Tom Clement was the much respected head of the Colorado Department of Corrections. Law enforcement authorities strongly suspect that a white supremacist prison gang gave the order for the murder Clements, so even if Ebel served the four extra years he was supposed to, another killer would have been dispatched to murder Clements.
Of course, there is another side to this story. Imagine if you are a victim of a crime and the person who committed it is let out early. Your faith in the criminal justice system would be crushed. No one is arguing that inmates should serve the time to which they were sentenced but, if a non-violent offender was released and was doing well, it might make sense to amend the original sentence to time served and save taxpayers thousands of dollars associated with re-incarceration, and allow the parolee to remain free while the paperwork is processed. Of course, the law doesn’t work that way. For at least 1,200 inmates and formerly incarcerated persons dreams have been crushed, and the wait for freedom begins again.
Source: Stateline, the daily news service of The Pew Charitable Trusts