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Sep 1, 2009 11:45 PM by Jeannette Hynes

3,500 Colorado inmates could leave prison early

Joe Cannata's daughter was murdered several years ago.  Her killer served 18 of his 24-year prison sentence.  In that time, Cannata went to countless hearings, including a parole hearing seven years after sentencing.  Cannata takes issue with Governor Bill Ritter's plan to release 3,500 prisoners.

"Victims go to these hearing because they want to see the person who committed the crime serve the sentence they were given," says Cannata. "They worry about their safety."

Cannata is now a victim's advocate with the nonprofit group, Voices of Victims.

The release program could save the state $45 million in two years.  The Deptartment of Corrections (DOC) estimates it costs $30 thousand a year to keep a person in prison.  That drops to $3,600 a year for parole.

The DOC estimates 20 percent of those eligible won't make it past the parole board.

"They have to look at risk, and they have to manage that, and their first, their first mission and their first responsibility is public safety," says Katherine Sanguinetti, Public Information Officer for the DOC.

Anyone is eligible for release, but the DOC says no prisoners on the list are serving time for a Class 1 Felony.

Another part of the plan, to release 2,600 people on parole to the community early, if those parolees qualify.  They have to have served at least half of their parole.  Also, they need to have met the requirements of their parole. The DOC says the accelerated transition pilot program is based on research from the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice.

"One of the research studies showed that offenders on a lengthy parole sentence weren't necessarily more successful than those who had a shorter sentence," says Sanguinetti.

Those who are released from parole early will receive transitional help, including medication, housing, and supervision.

Cannata says he understands needing to tighten the belt, but not at the risk of public safety.

"I'm not sure it's the best thing to do," says Cannata.

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