In a new column in the Denver Post, Right on Crime signatory and former Colorado House Majority Whip B.J. Nikkel—with Rep. Pete Lee, D-District 18—make the case that, despite “widely publicized episodes” involving the state’s parolees, the state is nonetheless moving in the right direction bolstering its weakly performing parole system.

Citing the state’s stubbornly high rate of parole revocations that for years contributed to further incidence of crime, increasing prison populations, and a “corresponding jump in taxpayer costs,” Nikkel and Lee explain that needed change came by way of strong bipartisan legislation in the Colorado Legislature:

“The first phase of reform came with 2014’s House Bill 1355, which passed with strong bipartisan support in the Senate (32-3) and House (47-15)…the legislation fortified the parole system through staff increases, enhanced training, equipment upgrades and support for community-based services and treatment programs proven to help parolees succeed upon release.


In 2015, a second reform bill…passed both chambers unanimously….Specifically, the bill was anchored in studies showing that swift, certain and proportional sanctions, combined with treatment addressing drug and alcohol dependency and other criminal risk factors, are most effective in reducing parolee failures — and thereby enhancing public safety and cutting taxpayer costs. That formula has been most powerfully demonstrated in Hawaii, where a gold-standard evaluation of the H.O.P.E program found significant declines in recidivism by using short commitments to jail rather than revocation to prison as the response to probationers’ technical violations.”

While still a bit early to draw more firm, long-term conclusions from these reforms, Nikkel and Lee say the preliminary results are encouraging, as revocations for technical violations dropped 11 percent, and readmission to prison for new felony convictions dropped 5 percent in the last fiscal year, and have continued to drop during this fiscal year.

Nikkel and Lee conclude with a bottom line: Isolated incidents may “grab headlines,” but Colorado was in “dire need” of parole reform, state leaders did the “right thing for public safety” by adopting it, and that the state has less crime and incarceration now to show for it. We anticipate further successful reforms in Colorado to grow out of this effort, as legislators continue to identify opportunities to improve the outcomes in other areas of the state’s justice system.


Photo credit: CBS Denver