Roger Werholtz named new interim Department of Corrections chief

DENVER - Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper  on Tuesday announced a new interim leader for the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Roger Werholtz will lead the prison system starting April 22. According to his online biography, he retired from the Kansas Department of Corrections in December 2010.

In a statement Hickenlooper said, “We are fortunate to have someone of Roger’s experience help us through this transition.”

According to the news release, Werholtz will also help with the search for the state’s new executive director of prisons.

The former executive director, Tom Clements, was killed at his home in Monument on March 19. Police have linked his murder to parolee Evan Ebel,  who was killed in a Texas shootout.

“I look forward to continuing the work begun by Tom Clements, who had set a course for the Department of Corrections that focused on the latest corrections research and practices,” Werholtz said.

He added that Clements strived to make Colorado a safer place for families to live.

In a question and answer session with the Center for Court Innovation Werholtz said the biggest challenge he faced when he took over as the Kansas Secretary of Corrections in 2002 was the high projected growth of prisoners.

He said his aim was to focus on changing offender behavior, as opposed to just responding to it,  by creating a pilot reentry program. The program was to change how parole officers go about supervising parolees, he said in an interview done in July 2008.


“All of our job descriptions have been re-written to reflect these new priorities, and in interviewing staff for promotions, we require knowledge of evidence-based practices,” he told Center for Court Innovation.

He said the results achieved a 48 percent reduction in revocations and a 31 percent reduction in absconders.

“One thing we had to reinforce for parole officers is that while there needed to be a response to every technical violation like failing a drug test, it didn’t always have to be revocation,” he told Center for Court Innovation. 

He added, “Returning a parolee to prison may be one of the least effective decisions a parole officer could make.  When revocation requests were made, we had the supervisor of the parole officer and the regional parole director start asking parole officers questions like, 'Have you tried any alternatives?' Pretty soon staff understood how important it was to try and keep someone in the community safely.  Now we approve more than 90 percent of revocation requests from staff, because they are thinking through all of the questions that we used to ask of them.”

Hickenlooper said Werholtz brings 28 years of corrections experience to the position. He will lead efforts already underway to evaluate the Colorado’s parole system, work on the Prison Utilization Study, repurpose the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility and implement the department’s strategic plan.