Colorado does not offer treatment to some sex offenders, lawsuit says

A Colorado Department of Corrections officer walks through the third floor of Cell Block No. 8 at the Fremont Correctional Facility during an official count at the Canon City prison on August 6, 2011. (File photo)

The Colorado Department of Corrections is refusing to provide treatment to sex offenders serving indeterminate prison sentences despite assuring them they will be eligible for parole after completing the program, a new lawsuit filed in federal court says.

The proposed class action lawsuit, filed this week in Colorado U.S. District Court against the state’s prison officials, argues that Colorado’s failure to provide treatment is causing hundreds of inmates to not be considered for release when they would otherwise be eligible – resulting in tens of millions of dollars in costs to keep them “warehoused.”

Nine inmates serving indeterminate sentences for sex offenses in state prisons — ranging from 2 years to life to 20 years to life — filed the lawsuit. They argue that the Justice Department is treating higher-risk sex offenders serving limited sentences even when they are not yet eligible for parole.

In this way, the lawsuit alleges, the ministry favors people with a fixed release date over people without a fixed release date.

“The DOC is ignoring individuals who are at lower risk of recidivism. They are serving indeterminate sentences for less serious crimes and have shorter minimum sentences,” wrote the inmates’ lawyers from the law firms Haddon, Morgan and Foreman and Recht Kornfeld.

“This treatment withdrawal effectively results in a life sentence with indeterminate penalties for all sex offenders in Colorado,” they added.

Some of the plaintiffs in the case were eligible for parole within one or two years of their incarceration, according to the complaint. Others had to wait up to 10 years, but without treatment, none of the plaintiffs were eligible for release.

The plaintiffs’ lawyers were not immediately available for comment on Friday.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department was also not immediately available for comment. The lawsuit names Moses Stancil, the department’s executive director, Amanda Retting, director of the sex offender treatment and supervision program, and Kimberly Kline, director of the mental health department and chair of the state’s Sex Offender Management Board, as defendants.

Sex offender treatment is required for inmates serving indeterminate sentences under the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act of 1998. It states that sex offenders must undergo treatment as part of their sentence and will not be released on parole until they successfully complete it, the lawsuit states.

The Department of Corrections said it has been unable to hire enough staff for the treatment program for years, the lawsuit says. The lawsuit notes that there are other ways the agency can ensure timely treatment, such as through telehealth services.