DENVER – Colorado authorities said they inadvertently released a sex offender from prison under a moneysaving early release initiative, prompting Republican lawmakers on Thursday to urge the state's Democratic governor to suspend the program.
Gov. Bill Ritter, a former Denver district attorney, has said that no sex offenders, kidnappers or killers would be released under the program, which officials hope will save $19 million as the state deals with a $318 million budget shortfall this year.
But the first round of prisoners released Sept. 22-23 included a man convicted in a child sex-assault case. The parole board said it was unaware of the conviction before the release.
The mistake shows that the program isn't working, House Minority Leader Mike May said Thursday. Ritter should find other ways to save money that wouldn't put the public at risk, May said.
Of the 10 offenders released, seven have been convicted of violent crimes, including three convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence or assault and four convicted of felony violent crimes from robbery to vehicular assault, The Denver Post reported.
They included a man accused three times of sex offenses and a drunken driver convicted of vehicular homicide, the newspaper said.
Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry and former Republican congressman Scott McInnis — both of whom hope to challenge Ritter next year as the GOP's gubernatorial nominee — said the program needs to be shut down.
The odds are high that one or more of the first 10 prisoners released will reoffend, said McInnis, a former police officer. That would wipe out any savings, forcing taxpayers to prosecute them again and send them back to jail, he said.
"This policy is madness and it should be stopped immediately," Penry said.
Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor has no plans to suspend the program. He said the fact that fewer inmates than expected are qualifying for release shows that officials are being careful.
"It's a good program," Dreyer said. "It's good policy."