Parole officers have some of the toughest jobs in America — and so do the people who supervise them. No matter how hard they
try or how sound their judgment, they won't always succeed. Some former prisoners will relapse into crime — occasionally with shocking results.
That being said, the case of Calvin Johnson is both baffling and alarming. And Coloradans had better hope it doesn't represent an attitude at the Department of Corrections that puts the freedom of parolees above public safety.
It turns out that Johnson might as well have waved red flags in front of parole officials for all the many warnings he gave them before allegedly killing a man on New Year's Day.
Johnson's arrest received extensive news coverage last month in part because of an irony: Just two weeks earlier, deputy director of parole Alison Morgan singled out Johnson as an example of her department's success in working with difficult cases. She offered this opinion in testimony before a session of the legislature's Joint Judiciary Committee on Dec. 16.
Indeed, Morgan outlined what she said was "a tremendous collaboration between parole, mental health and the community-based organizations" on efforts to "work with this parolee." And, she added, "that's how all of this is working, really very successfully."
Given such testimony, it would be reasonable to suppose Johnson's alleged crime must have come like a bolt from the blue to officials. Yet that is not the case — unless they were deluding themselves.
The online news source Complete Colorado, which broke the original story about Morgan's legislative appearance, this week published a series of documents from the Department of Corrections that reveal disturbing episodes involving Johnson, both before and after his release from prison.
One of these incidents occurred the same month that Morgan referenced Johnson before lawmakers. The case report notes that when the parolee checked in to submit a routine urine sample, he "proceeded to get extremely agitated" and began spewing crude obscenities and insults at staff members, told female staff "he had a gun," and eventually had to be escorted from the building because he would not leave.
He left everyone "very rattled," the report said.
Surely Morgan knew about this incident. But if so, why would she cite Johnson as an example — especially as his parole had been revoked briefly in October because of similar troubling behavior? In a prescient observation, his parole supervisor wrote at the time that in his opinion, the "offender is currently a risk to public safety and to the staff that come in contact with him."
The documents also reveal Johnson had to be directed by his parole supervisor to leave an Army surplus store in November because he "was giving them a hard time."
In March, while Johnson was still in prison, he sent an e-mail to a corrections officer insisting he had been born with violent tendencies and there was nothing to be done about it.
By the time of Morgan's testimony, it was abundantly clear that this deeply troubled individual — who by the way was living in a tent in an alley — was having a great deal of trouble controlling his anger outside prison. So what does it say about the parole system that instead of revoking his parole it would hold him up as an example of its good work?
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