Our View: CAPS should do better

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The trend is unsettling.

Earlier this month, when Charles Edward Yoder walked away from an inmate work-release program in Craig, he was the ninth person to do so in a year.

Yoder, 40, is still on the run, along with two other program escapees. He was working on Ranney Street when he walked away from the Correctional Alternative Placement Services program.

Aside from the dangers such escapes pose to the community --here's always an element of desperation in people on the lam --he recent rash of escapes is serving to make some residents distrustful of what should be and usually is a productive and useful program.

The Department of Corrections pays CAPS, a private company, to provide transitional housing for inmates and provide work-release programs. The program relieves pressure on an over-crowded jail system and provides a positive alternative to incarceration.

For five years, CAPS managed to operate without losing an inmate to escape. CAPS officials say they are at a loss to explain the recent rash of runaway inmates.

But we would start with the screening process.

Officials with the program say they won't accept clients who have previous escape on their records. So why did they accept Yoder?

Yoder, convicted of a dangerous weapons charge, has a history of giving law enforcement officials the slip.

Yoder, who is originally from Sacramento, Calif., was in the work-release program on a weapons charge and an escape charge from 1995. The charges were from Mesa County.

Yoder "graduated" from the CAPS resident program to the nonresident program Nov. 4.

The graduation meant Yoder had more freedom to leave the facility. So he did.

On Nov. 11, Yoder didn't check in and was booked into Moffat County Jail on charges of violating the terms of his parole. But less than a week after being arrested, he was allowed back into the relative freedom of the CAPS program.

CAPS officials say they carefully screen participants in the program.

We think there was a serious lapse in judgment when the company allowed Yoder to return to the program.

We're also concerned about the company's policies. Yoder's escape from law enforcement officials 10 years ago didn't keep him out of the work-release program, officials say, because he walked away from law enforcement officers, not a community corrections facility.

We think that's a dangerous splitting of hairs.

We think CAPS and programs like it can play an important and useful role in society. But lapses in judgment will erode public confidence.

We urge CAPS to do a better job of screening participants before someone gets hurt.

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