DENVER – Evan Ebel was released from prison more than three months early, largely due to his participation in programs designed to coax troubled offenders from solitary confinement that were championed by the man he is suspected of killing, Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements, authorities said Friday.
Ebel, a 28-year-old member of a white supremacist prison gang with a long felony record, died in a shootout in Texas earlier this month. Investigators say he may be linked to the slaying of Clements as well as a pizza delivery man who was shot to death shortly before the prison chief's death.
Records released Thursday show that Ebel was released on Jan. 28 after serving seven years, 11 months and 24 days in prison. They also show that he was credited for 115 days for good behavior, despite racking up 28 different violations of prison rules and a long disciplinary record behind bars.
Ebel entered prison in 2005 on a three-year sentence in a robbery case, legal records show. But that was extended once he was linked to an assault charge that netted him an eight-year term. It lengthened again once he was convicted of assaulting a prison guard in 2006. Because some of the sentences were designed to be served concurrently, Ebel was in total supposed to spend more than eight years behind bars.
While Ebel was disciplined for threatening to kill guards, assaulting other prisoners and being unruly, corrections officials were legally unable to extend the length of his sentence as punishment, spokeswoman Alison Morgan said Friday.
Once they gave Ebel credit toward earlier release — which he earned — they were prohibited from rescinding it once he misbehaved, she said.
"Earned time is an incentive and it is an appropriate tool to have — an important tool to have," Morgan said. "We want to be able to show (inmates) the reward" if they alter their behavior, she said.
Ebel spent most of his time behind bars in solitary confinement, accruing five days of earned time while he was in the general population in 2005. He participated in two programs that eased inmates in solitary back into the general population and tried to change their behavior. He earned a total of 60 days early release for his participation in those programs.
"He participated in the cognitive development program, which is what we wanted him to do," Morgan said.
Each time he was kicked out of the program for disciplinary violations, sent back to solitary confinement, and stopped accruing earned time.
Until 2011, inmates could not gain earned time while in solitary, but Clements supported a change in the law that year that allowed his agency to choose to reward prisoners in isolation who changed their behavior and became less of a security risk. Ebel earned 35 days of early release due to that change, according to an accounting by the Department of Corrections, mostly between July and November of last year.
Morgan said the agency was trying to incentivize Ebel. "There is that reward for, 'yes, we want you to continue to return to this path.'"
Then, in December, he earned an additional 15 days for participating in a program to help offenders released back onto the streets directly from solitary confinement.
Clements joined the agency in 2011 and immediately set about trying to reduce the number of inmates in solitary confinement, which he viewed as potentially damaging to prisoners' psyches and their ability to reintegrate into society. He had been particularly concerned about inmates released back onto the streets from solitary, like Ebel.
During his two years running the agency, the number of prisoners in solitary confinement was nearly cut in half. But Ebel remained in solitary until his release at the end of his now-truncated sentence. Records show the agency knew he was potentially dangerous.
"Very high risk," blares the sheet issued upon his parole. "Recidivism Odds: 2 in 3."