DENVER - Colorado has a new prison system chief, more than four months after the murder of former Department of Corrections Chief Tom Clements at the hands of a parolee.
"When the executive director was murdered, it lit a fire under me," Rick Raemisch told KRDO-TV said Monday. "I thought, 'I can do more than I was doing in my current position.'"
Raemisch had been living in Wisconsin working as dean of Madison College's School of Human & Protective Services, and formerly leading the Wisconsin DOC.
He said his priority is clear: "Make Colorado safer." But he wouldn't get into specifics about changes he wants to make.
Failures at the DOC have continued to be exposed after authorities say parolee Evan Ebel went on a murderous rampage.
Ebel's parole officer didn't get an arrest warrant for Ebel until six days after the parolee had cut off his ankle monitor. But then investigators say Ebel had murdered Clements and a Denver man, Nate Leon.
It was later learned Ebel was released from prison four years too soon because of a court mistake. After an audit was ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper, at least 124 other similar sentencing mistakes were found.
"I think the whole system has to be reviewed," Raemisch told KRDO-TV.
He also talked about inmates like Ebel going straight from years of solitary confinement to freedom. Ebel ultimately died in a high-speed chase and shoot out with Texas law enforcement officers that left a deputy wounded.
"Releasing people from segregation out onto the streets once they've been paroled is a recipe for disaster," Raemisch said. "That's something that has to be fixed."
As Wisconsin's prisons secretary, Raemisch started a program that permitted non-violent inmates to reduce their sentences with good behavior, a program slammed by Republicans.
"I've heard it called hug-a-thug," said Raemisch.
He said he stands by it.
"Those programs worked. Those programs were not early release programs, they were earned release programs based on data," he said.
Colorado DOC spokeswoman Alison Morgan said interim prison chief Roger Werholtz will continue to lead the prison system for the rest of this week while Raemisch familiarizes himself with operations.
"We always strive to provide the best public safety. It's difficult to hear criticism, but you learn from it and you want to come out on the end a better organization," Morgan said. "That's what we're focused on, and we know Rick will help us reach that next level."
Neither Raemisch nor Morgan would talk about security measures for the new DOC director.