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Apr 22, 2013 11:18 PM by Tony Spehar - tspehar@koaa.com

Hard work ahead for interim prison chief

Monday was the first day on the job for Interim Colorado Department of Corrections Director Roger Werholtz, who is taking the position for three-months to fulfill the duties of former director Tom Clements who was murdered in his Monument home in March.

Werholtz has nearly 30-years of experience working in corrections in Kansas, he came out of retirement to temporarily take on leadership of the Colorado prison system. He said on Monday he spent his time beginning to familiarize himself with the way Colorado corrections work.

"I still am learning the system," Werholtz said. "But, I'm also not here to hold a place."

Though his stint as director will be brief, Werholtz said he will make any changes necessary to the system. Tough challenges may lie ahead in a corrections department that is under scrutiny.

The DOC is in the middle of an audit of it's procedures for handling paroled prisoners. Police say Evan Ebel, a former inmate and chief suspect in the murder of Tom Clements, cut-off an electronic monitoring bracelet and was on the loose for days before investigators say he gunned down Clements and Denver pizza delivery drive Nathan Leon. It was also revealed that because of a clerical error Ebel was released from prison four-years earlier than he should have been.

Werholtz said he was hoping to be able to monitor that audit and possibly make changes based on the results.

"I know that it's something that I'll be paying attention to over the next few weeks," he explained.

Another issues Werholtz may end up dealing with is prison gangs. Evan Ebel was a member of the 211 Crew, a white supremacist prison gang, two other members of the 211 Crew and being held as persons of interest in the Clements case. Werholtz said security threat groups, as prison gangs are called by the DOC, are a problem across the nation.

"Security threat groups are in all prison systems and it's always something to be concerned about," he described. "I don't know enough specifics to really comment with any kind of authority yet about the issues here in Colorado, that's what I'm trying to learn about."

He said he planned to continue the reform efforts started by Tom Clements, which included changing the system of administrative segregation, also known as solitary confinement, and improve efforts to rehabilitate convicts to reduce recidivism.

"I think there were some very positive things going on," he explained.

Policies on early release and the death penalty are two other issues Werholtz said he would be reviewing.

There are still many questions remaining about why Evan Ebel killed Tom Clements, there is still speculation it may have been related to his involvement in the 211 Crew. Security is still a concern, though he couldn't discuss precautions he and the DOC are taking, he said he felt safe.

"I think I'm being well taken care of," he said.

Werholtz will serve as director until July, Governor Hickenlooper has already started the process of finding a new permanent leader for the Department of Corrections.

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