Factors Affecting Colorado Parole Release Decisions

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For most individuals who receive a prison sentence, the amount of time they will serve in prison is somewhat unpredictable because of officials’ discretionary capacity to exercise “back-end” release decisions, including parole release decisions and the award of good time and earned time credit. These back-end decisions influence how long someone ultimately spends in prison and, over time, can have a substantial impact on prison population size. This project examines how back-end powers of prison release discretion operate within the Colorado prison system. 

Reitz, Griffith, and Rhine1 categorize the Colorado prison release system as one of high indeterminacy; meaning that for almost all incarcerated individuals, back-end authorities such as the Colorado State Board of Parole and the Department of Corrections (DOC) are given substantially more discretion over total time served than the front-end judicial authorities who issue prison sentences. To determine how these powers of discretion interact to govern prison stay length, we assessed temporal patterns in the release decisions of the Colorado State Board of Parole and the decisions of the DOC in awarding and withholding good-time and earned-time credits.

  • 1Reitz, K., Griffith, M., & Rhine, E. (2022). Prison-Release Discretion and Prison Population Size. State Report: Colorado. Robina Institute of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice.