DOC failures mean Parole Division may undergo changes already implemented by Probation Division

DENVER - Doing away with ankle monitoring bracelets is just one of the options the state may consider to address problems within the Department of Corrections.

Lawmakers are now demanding change and CALL7 Investigators are getting an idea of what that change might look like.

It's not just tweaking a few policies.

The Department of Corrections is attempting what amounts to a 180-degree turn in philosophy that will impact every employee and inmate in the state.

One state agency is already making the change -- Colorado's Probation Division.

"It's not a quick process," said Eric Philp, the director of Colorado's Probation Division.

He started transforming the state's probation division in 2008, using research and intensive studies as the basis for changing the way officers, supervisors, and everyone in probation thinks about his or her job and goes about doing their job.

"We have historically talked about compliance with terms and conditions, which is what the court orders, which is fine when they're under supervision. We still do that. What we've added on is this behavior change," said Eileen Kinney, the evaluation unit manager with Colorado's Probation Division.

Kinney is helping Philp implement across-the-board practices that focus on changing criminal behavior through treatment and personal interaction instead of punishment.

It's a huge paradigm shift for anyone working in the courts and corrections.

Philp simplifies it like this: Historically, only a small amount of time is spent assessing the criminal's needs and behavior. A case plan is created with the majority of the focus placed on supervision. Probation has now inverted that pyramid, putting the largest share of the time on assessing the individual and tailoring a plan to help change their behavior.

Supervision, while still critical, is as minimal as necessary.

The relationship between the officer and probationer becomes the most critical component.

"That is huge, that's really about empathy and developing trust, having integrity and warmth and genuiness. That's what that relationship piece is about," Kinney said.

Officers receive training in motivational interviewing techniques and get proactive, constant coaching by their supervisors.

"That's how you change behavior. Punishment is the least way to change behavior. Most people hear consequences in a negative sense. We don't talk so much about consequences," Philp said.

"Was it awkward for you to be doing a presentation before state legislators about what you are doing right when another agency is doing something wrong?" CALL7's Theresa Marchetta asked.

"We worked with Parole closely for years. They have many of the same challenges we do. It was an awkward situation because I did not want to be put in the position where here's a complete bright shining light, and here is darkness," Philp said.

Those hearings in September were called after our CALL7 investigations uncovered failures in the parole division. Parolee Evan Ebel's ankle monitor alerts were ignored as he murdered the former Department of Corrections Chief Tom Clements and Nate Leon, a father of three.

"It's not fool-proof technology. It doesn't prevent crimes," Philp said.

Philp believes ankle monitors, like the one Ebel was wearing, are overrated.

"I think the public thinks that's going to prevent crime. That's not been my experience in 30 years in this business," Philp said.

He says criminals under intensive supervision or ISP need close supervision and a close relationship with the officer.

"The old rule with this group is, you live in their back pocket and that's what ISP is gonna be," Philp said.

Hans Beelner says the Probation Division's new approach works.

"She was really good and really passionate in her job towards me, " said Beelner, talking about his probation officer.

He said his first time on probation was filled with threats and he eventually re-offended. The second time he was on probation, he successfully completed probation and started college when an officer encouraged him.

Beelner said she told him, 'I just want to do whatever it takes to get you through this.  You know you have to pull your own weight."

"She gave me the right tools to succeed rather than trying to find anything to get someone screwed over," he said.

"So that for the public I'd say, seeing crime rates holding steady, not getting worse, and potentially going down in some cases, that tells us some of this is working," Kinney said.

And now the hope is that what works for probation might also work with felons on parole.

"Have you had any conversations yet about working with them?" Marchetta asked.

"I have confidence we will be working together as we always have worked together on a variety of these things," Philp said.

It's too soon yet for probation to have hard numbers on how well their new approach is working but in Washington state, which has a similar approach, they've reduced the number of probation violators by 1,000 per year.
 

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