Legislators grill new Dept. of Corrections executive director and acting parole director on policies

DENVER - Facing hours of questions from state legislators, the new executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections was remarkably candid about the problems he faces.

Friday, the second day of hearings held by the Joint Judiciary Committee, was largely dedicated to the questioning of Executive Director Rick Raemisch. He is the permanent replacement for Tom Clements, who was one of the two men killed in March by parolee Evan Ebel.

"It's not a broken system but it does have problems," Raemisch said, before adding, "all of them can be fixed."

Sitting next to Raemisch and also answering questions was Acting Parole Director Steve Hagar, who replaced the only man to be fired in the wake of Ebel's crimes.

The two DOC executives faced hours of questions on the use of solitary confinement in prisons, the oversight of parole managers and the handling of parolees.

"It's kinda getting embarrassing," Raemisch said at one point.

The legislators asked tough questions, exposing that the leadership is pushing forward without keeping track of the effectiveness of their changes.

"So the follow up isn't being done now. There's no documentation of it. There's no evidence these great ideas are being implemented and followed," said Representative Polly Lawrence.

Representative Mark Waller asked, "You go through all this rigorous training before you hire the person, how can it be they're only successful contacting their clients 53 percent of the time?"

Many of the topics examined in the hearing can be traced directly to systemic problems exposed during the investigation of Ebel's crimes.

Ebel, who was killed in a shootout with Texas officers after committing the two murders in Colorado, was released into society directly from solitary confinement. That kind of release is a controversial practice that Ebel protested in his handwritten prison grievances.

He wrote, "Do you have an obligation to the public to reacclimatize 'dangerous' inmates to being around other human beings prior to releasing them into society after they have spent years in solitary confinement & if not, why not?"

Commenting on the "embarrassingly high" recidivism rate, Raemisch told the committee he believed inmates were not being properly prepared for release into society. He said specifically that releasing inmates from solitary confinement, called administrative segregation, was a "recipe for disaster."

When Ebel cut off his ankle monitor, the alert went unchecked for days. A two-hour rule has since been implemented, but Hager admitted to the committee there is "no standard at this time" to measure if response times are improving.

"One of the things we're gonna be looking for is a pretty comprehensive plan," Representative Daniel Kagan warned the executives.

After it all, Raemisch thanked the committee for forcing them to "look at an area people don't want to look" and added, "We didn't like what we saw."

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