DOC decisions leave parole officers out of discussions, say officers fearful for public safety

DENVER, Colo. - CALL7 investigator Theresa Marchetta spoke exclusively with three DOC parole officers who say the changes to the parole division demanded by the judiciary committee in September aren't happening fast enough. The officers are also questioning the agency's priorities and how your tax dollars are spent.

On Nov.1, Gov. John Hickenlooper unveiled his budget proposal for the 2014-15 financial year requesting a 6.3 percent general fund increase to the DOC. His proposal includes $10 million to be set aside to implement recommendations from new leadership at DOC in addition to more than $950,000 to fund the new fugitive apprehension unit.

If major changes are set to take place in the parole division, the officers Marchetta spoke with say they want to be part of the discussion to fix the problems.

"We care about these offenders too, but we also care about public safety. And what we really need is for our own management and our own directors to really see that and start to do those changes," said one parole officer.

Parole officers have been taking the blame for catastrophic errors uncovered by CALL7 investigations. Now, officers want to set the record straight about their working conditions, supervisors, and what they say would have the biggest impact on keeping the public safe from felons on parole.

Marchetta asked the officers, "Do you think that the money has been going to the right areas?" with resounding responses, the officers said "no," "no absolutely not."

Kellie Wasko started in corrections 10-years ago as a nurse and has been recently named Deputy Executive Director, earning a six-figure salary.

"If you can pay an associate director a six-figure contract, there's clearly money. If you can start a fugitive unit, there's money." 

The officers called some of the recent changes a "window dressing" and explained that management is "not looking at the issues" most needed by parole officers in their day-to-day work. Officers say administrators are spending time and money on superficial changes like changing the name of the parole division and changing the lettering on their uniform from "police" to "parole."

"With all of the other issues going on, you're really going to focus on what my shirt says? Really?"

"It's a terrible idea because it creates a huge officer safety issue," says another officer.

The officers are concerned that the DOC administration sets unrealistic expectations and is out of touch with the challenges officers face. They say bigger caseloads and stacks of paperwork keep them tethered to a desk, preventing them from spending more time with the parolees which compromises public safety.

When Marchetta asked, "Do you feel like you have a management to go to air your concerns?"

 The officers responded they have "nowhere to turn to. We can go find another job."  

For some, finding another job makes financial sense.  

"We're already underpaid compared to other market police departments and even other market parole offices around the country."

CALL7 discovered that a community parole officer in Colorado is required to have a 4-year degree and have peace officer standard training certification. Additionally, parole officers work exclusively with felons, but their pay starts at about $44,000 a year-- approximately nine thousand dollars less than a starting police officer in Commerce City. The officers acknowledged, "we're losing qualified people."

The result, "We get people that are right out of college, people with minimal experience because they are the ones willing to accept such a low-paying position."

Parole officers tell Marchetta they want to see changes in the division, but want to ensure the right changes are being made for public safety.

"Let's start implementing policies and procedures that will keep the public safer. And let's make sure that when these guys get out that they are prepared for what's out there when they get on the other side of the wall."

Recently parole officers received new radios and new ballistic vests, but officers say they still need wireless cards so they are able to do paperwork from the field while they're checking on parolees. They suggest hiring a dispatcher to track parole officers on home visits and coordinate back up when needed. Currently the state patrol provides that service for a fee. Finally the parole officers would like to see an inmate's re-entry process start to take place in prison, which is something Director Raemisch has said he wants to do.