Corrections board takes strong stand

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Police Chief Walt Vanatta says he doesn't want Craig to become a community overrun with convicted felons.

His fellow members on the 14th Judicial District Community Corrections Board agree.

Last week, they upheld a longstanding policy that requires inmates in the custody of the Correctional Alternative Placement Services facility in Craig to find somewhere else to live when they're granted parole.

The board makes exceptions for convicted felons who are originally from Grand, Moffat or Routt counties. Those felons are welcome to stay upon their release. For everyone else, it's hasta la vista, baby.

Residents are undoubtedly grateful the board has taken a stand. Who wants a convicted felon for a neighbor? But they may be disquieted to learn that the board's authority hinges on a good relationship with the parole officer who sets the conditions of each inmate's release.

Right now that parole officer is Shane Fuchs, who agrees that Craig is too small to support an influx of people with criminal pasts. But he's not bound by state law to follow the board's wishes.

The state Department of Corrections has told the board it has the highest rejection rate in the state and wants some changes. The board refuses to acquiesce, which leaves some parolees in the lurch.

One woman -- a recovering methamphetamine addict -- said she feels like her "support system is being ripped out" from underneath her. Malea Gowins has done all the things she's supposed to do to earn a state-sanctioned chance at redemption. She has a job, an apartment and a circle of friends who have helped her stay clean and sober. But she was sentenced outside the 14th Judicial District, which means she has to find a new place to call home now that she's met the conditions for parole. Once she's out of her established comfort zone, who knows what will happen to her.

The board agrees that CAPS serves an important role in the community because it gives local convicts a chance to receive treatment, turn their lives around and become model citizens. But local convicts alone can't support the cost of running the CAPS program. That's why CAPS accepts convicts from outside the 14th Judicial District.

If the board truly believes that CAPS can make a difference in people's lives, it should re-examine its unyielding stance. A case-by-case review policy, rather than a blanket prohibition against out-of-district felons living here, would minimize risks for local citizens while ensuring that CAPS maximizes its ability to turn lives around. Why should our local felons be the only ones allowed to make a smooth transition from CAPS to a better life? After all, a felon is a felon, whether he's from here or Colorado Springs.

We're fortunate we have a community-based board that takes the wishes of the community seriously. And the board is right to to take an ultra-conservative approach regarding release conditions. The board has acknowledged that Craig is still somewhat "naive" and residents are ill-prepared to contend with hardened criminals. Parolees also put an extra burden on local resources, such as our welfare system and low-income housing.

But that doesn't change the fact that many well-intentioned parolees like Malea Gowins are going to find it painfully difficult to stay on the straight and narrow once they're forced to build new lives in a strange place.

That seems to be OK with the board, as long as they relapse in someone else's backyard.

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