DENVER (AP) — Hundreds of Colorado criminals were apparently given erroneous prison sentences, and judges and corrections officials across the state are scrambling to keep them from getting out early — or, in some cases, to return them to the prisons they just left, authorities said Tuesday.
Prison officials have alerted courts to 281 inmates whose sentences seem to be incorrect in some way, according to Allison Morgan, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections. Judges have already adjusted the sentences in 56 of those cases and are reviewing others. They have declined to change sentences in about 70 percent of the cases they have considered so far, court and corrections officials said, but it's unclear why.
An unknown number of the cases involve people who have already been paroled from prison, or are in halfway houses or other community correctional facilities.
The information comes in the course of an audit ordered by Gov. John Hickenlooper after it was revealed the man suspected of killing the state's corrections chief left prison four years early because the courts gave the prison system incorrect information about his proper sentence.
Only a fraction of the review has been completed. More than 2,000 more cases flagged by auditors as potentially problematic need to be reviewed by corrections officials to determine whether there are in fact more mistakes. If the 56 percent error rate holds up, it would mean more than 1,000 inmates were improperly sentenced.
The audit is looking at 8,415 offenders convicted of at least one of 13 crimes. It is only examining people still under the control of prisons, either via incarceration or parole. The review won't be completed until July.
The initial results were first reported by The Denver Post.
"The audit is doing what it was supposed to do, and we are working with the courts to correct any errors found," Hickenlooper spokesman Eric Brown said.
The audit is one of two steps the state is taking to address shortfalls in its criminal justice system that were exposed in the March killing of Corrections chief Tom Clements. Evan Ebel, a parolee who later died in a shootout in Texas, is the lone identified suspect in the case.
Ebel served eight years in state prison but was supposed to be there longer because he was sentenced to four more years after being convicted of assaulting a guard in 2008. However, the court paperwork sent to Corrections failed to note that the sentence was intended to be imposed in addition to Ebel's current term. Prison officials said they legally had to consider it running simultaneously. They released him on parole in January when he completed the truncated sentence.
Ebel wore an electronic monitoring bracelet while on parole. He cut it March 14, which sent an alert to his parole agent. Five days later, Clements was shot and killed at his house. Parole officers did not realize Ebel had fled until that day.
Officials last month said all parole officers must now respond to certain alerts from electronic bracelets within two hours. In addition to the audit, the National Institute of Corrections is studying the state's parole system.
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