Board affirms parolee policy

Advertisement

Parole officer Shane Fuchs tells the felons he supervises that if they're not from here, they won't be allowed to parole here.

Colorado Department of Corrections inmates come to Craig to stay at Correctional Alternative Placement Services. They find jobs, make friends, and many times they want to stay even after their stint at CAPS.

But Fuchs has been telling them they can't stay unless they were sentenced in the 14th Judicial District, which includes Grand, Routt and Moffat Counties.

The policy has caused friction with inmates who have grown to like it here and don't understand why they're being forced to leave.

Malea Gowins was granted parole on Wednesday after she spent nearly a year in Craig under CAPS' -- and Fuchs' -- supervision. When she was told she'd have to leave, Gowins said she was devastated.

"I feel like my support system is being ripped out from under me," Gowins said.

Gowins has a job, an apartment and a circle of friends who have helped her keep a lifelong drug addiction at bay. She was excited to get paroled, and be rid of the ankle bracelet that tracks her comings and goings. But the mandate to leave Craig upset her.

She wants Fuchs to let her stay.

But the parole officer is acting on the wishes of a community-based board called the 14th Judicial District Community Corrections Board. The board is responsible for approving clients who apply to CAPS. It also oversees hearings and other matters related to the administration of the facility. The board strongly opposes letting out-of-district CAPS clients remain here after they get paroled.

It's a longstanding policy, said John Ponikvar, who has sat on the board for 16 years.

Although Fuchs is not bound by the board's wishes, he works closely with it because many of CAPS' clients are supervised by Fuchs, too.

When the board met on Wednesday, Fuchs told the members that he adheres to its policy because he is concerned that Craig is too small to support an influx of convicted felons.

He asked for guidance, however, because he was unclear whether the policy was a concrete rule, or whether it should be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Gowins' case seemed to be the impetus for his question.

"She wants to stay here and Shane's telling her she has to go back," CAPS Director Cindy Talkington told the board.

Cases in which inmates would like to parole to Craig are coming up more and more, Talkington said.

"I'm having a lot of issues," Fuchs said. "I need support from the board to say, 'This is concrete.'"

"I really don't want a population base that is 25 percent convicted felons," said Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta, who sits on the board.

Ponikvar agreed.

"Lynn Horn is a perfect example," Ponikvar said.

Horn was an out-of-district client who stayed in Craig and has been arrested numerous times in the last year on weapons and drug charges. He currently faces federal prosecution for crimes he allegedly committed in Craig.

Dave Waite, who is Moffat County's chief deputy district attorney, affirmed that Fuchs should continue telling all potential parolees that they'll have to find a new home if they're not from here.

"Shane, what I'm hearing is unanimous support for the position you've taken," Waite said.

Clients like Horn may have damaged the public's perception of CAPS, but the program serves an important role in the community, several board members said.

Local convicts who may not be eligible for parole can stay in the community and receive treatment and supervision at CAPS, said Evan Herman, administrator of the 14th Judicial District.

"Having CAPS is a benefit to the district," Herman said.

Ponikvar points to success stories of clients who have learned responsibility, kicked drug and alcohol addictions, and left the program to become model citizens.

But CAPS wouldn't survive without out-of-district clients, so there is a trade-off, Ponikvar said.

But the recidivism rate for convicted felons is high, and it concerns him, Ponikvar said. That's why the board is so conservative. It is very careful about which clients it will accept, he said.

"DOC has said, 'You guys have the highest rejection rate in the state and you need to change,'" Ponikvar recalls.

"We're not going to," he said.

Gowins, meanwhile, will have to work with Fuchs to devise a new parole plan. She said she doesn't know where she'll go.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.