DENVER - Limiting the use of solitary confinement and keeping his department transparent are the stated goals of Colorado's new Executive Director of the Department of Corrections. He expressed those plans and more in a wide-ranging -- and sometimes confrontational -- interview with CALL7 Investigator Theresa Marchetta.
-- The future of the DOC --
On the top of Executive Director Rick Raemisch's list for moving forward is the completion of work started by his predecessor, Tom Clements: an effort to reduce the number of inmates held in administrative segregation, which is informally known as solitary confinement.
The parolee who murdered Clements and another man, Nate Leon, in March was released onto parole directly from administrative segregation
"A year ago we had, for instance, 140 major mentally ill individuals in administrative segregation. Today we have 8 and we're working on those 8," Raemisch said. "We are down from about slightly over 7 percent of the population being in administrative segregation to down to 3.9 percent."
Raemisch told Marchetta, "We have people that are well trained on how to handle dangerous people, and yet we felt they are too dangerous to be in general population, so we'll put them in administrative segregation and then, 'oh by the way,' release them into the community. It just doesn't make any sense. You are right, so we're developing a procedure process where that simply isn't going to happen."
Marchetta pressed for specifics, "Where are you in that process?"
"We're about half way done," he said. "We've gone through, I believe, last count was about 117 policies out of 300 and some."
Raemisch also remarked about previously unseen changes within the department.
"For instance when I talked about someone being directly released from administrative segregation into the community: Now we pick them up at the parole office, we notify law enforcement, we have an alarm bulletin that goes out to law enforcement talking about an individual and explaining where they are and who they are and what they're all about," he said.
Audits of the individual parole officers are also nearly complete.
"The assistant director and the director have been holding supervisors accountable to ensure that's done and ensure that if these audits fail, that the individuals are held accountable," Raemisch said. "There has been, I believe, one termination so far based on those audits."
To date, however, the position for the Director of the parole division has not been filled.
Raemisch would not reveal who he had in mind for the role, but said an announcement of a selection was imminent.
"I think, probably, the governor would like to know first," he joked.
--Restoring the DOC's reputation--
"I want someone to be proud to stand up and say, 'I'm a parole officer. I work for the Colorado Department of Corrections and this is what I do for a living,'" Raemisch said. "I want that on their shirts and on their attitude."
Raemisch is also working to stand up to the critics inside and outside of his department.
"I want them to be proud enough so they don't have to wear a hoodie and talk to the media -- that they can talk to me first about a problem," he said.
He is referring to one of Marchetta's CALL7 Investigations where "hooded employees" were parole officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity. They helped to expose a dangerous lack of equipment, such as radios and ballistic vests.
Marchetta asked, "Can they talk to you? Are you accessible?"
"If someone were to say, 'Rick, I've been to my immediate supervisor, I've been to .. I've been to…' The answer would be yes," he said.
Following Marchetta's reports, DOC leadership committed to replacing or upgrading the equipment that the officers said they needed.
"There's been a tremendous amount of work done since I got here in July," Raemisch said.
-- A tense interview --
After months of requests for interviews, this was Marchetta's first opportunity to ask questions to Executive Director Raemisch directly.
He is the former head of the Wisconsin's Department of Corrections and joined the Colorado DOC in July. Since his arrival, Marchetta and 7NEWS have published over a dozen stories about the department.
Those stories included criticism from politicians and parole officers who would only speak if their identities were concealed.
"There hasn't been one time we've put a story on the air that we haven't requested an interview," Marchetta told Raemisch during an intense moment of the Dec. 11 interview, "and we had to wait months for that opportunity."
"It would appear you don't exactly like what I'm saying," he replied.
"It doesn't matter whether I like it or not. I think it just matters that it's the truth," Marchetta responded. "It matters what the people of Colorado think, ultimately."
During one part of the interview, Raemisch was specifically upset about a report that questioned his decision to reinstate the position of Assistant Executive Director.
"I've been charged by the governor to lead this organization and make it once again a leader in corrections," he said in justification of the decision. "To do that, I need to spend a good part of my time with exterior partners and forming partnerships. That means I need someone who can see over the day to day operations."
Despite acknowledging that he entered a department in crisis, Raemisch did not appear to take kindly to criticism about the DOC's leadership.
"You made the comment that we are an already top heavy organization," he told Marchetta.
She began to respond, "I'm not the only one who…"
"And I'm quoting you on that," he said.
"Absolutely, and I'm not the only one who's said that," Marchetta said. "There have been legislators who have said that, there have been other journalists who have said that. And people in your own organization who've said that."
"They were wearing hoods," Raemisch said, referring to our interviews with parole officers whose identities were concealed.
About two minutes later in the interview, Raemisch steered the conversation directly back to the phrase "top heavy organization." He recited a litany of existing job titles, prompting Marchetta to ask if there were any plans to reassign or reorganize any of the roles.
"Nothing is safe or secure," Raemisch told her.
-- To regain the public's trust --
Raemisch says he plans to regain the public's trust by being transparent and showing his results.
As a first example of that approach, Raemisch shared the initial results of the new Fugitive Apprehension Unit.
Since August, he reports, the officers of that unit have made 170 apprehensions in conjunction with other law enforcement partners.
"Statistically we've been seeing the absconder numbers are down," he said. "We believe that's because individuals are learning if they do run and escape supervision, we have the resources to track them down."
The parolee who killed Clements was an absconder and a reported gang member. Raemisch alluded to a forthcoming plan that will also address the gang problem.
"We're going to have a system in place that's going to take a lot of power away from the gangs," he said.
Marchetta asked for more, "Is that something you're going to have more to share on?
"I will and it's not just about the gangs, violence is not accepted in a prison system. I don't think it should be part of the routine," he said.
-- Document: DOC plan presented to the Judiciary Committee