Giving Old Inmates New Life: Prisoners Serving Long Sentences Are Filling Lockups Across the Nation. There May Be a Solution
Aging prisoners serving long sentences are filling overcrowded lockups across the nation. Colorado prison officials hope a new program will help let some of these old guys get out — and stay out.
Anthony Montoya has spent the past 32 years — more than half his life — in prison for burglary and second-degree murder. Based on his crimes and long institutional existence, it’s no surprise that a Colorado parole board has denied Montoya 11 times, and a corrections board has shot down early release three times.
Last August, as the morning sun streaked through the windows of an 11th-floor conference room, the Denver Community Corrections Board considered Montoya, who is 57, for supervised discharge into a new county work-release program.
“Anthony Montoya,” the chair of the board calls out.
“Motion and a second,” the woman notes. “Any discussion?” There is none — which should raise a few eyebrows, given his history. But what happens next is even more startling. The board, through a show of hands, votes to accept Montoya for the program.
Montoya has just been accepted into a new program that prepares long-term, once-violent inmates for their release. In 2013, when his sentence ends, he could simply walk out of jail — “kill his number,” in prison parlance — without any extra effort, but he says that Colorado’s new Long-Term Offender Program will give him the tools and support he needs to succeed on the outside.
“I’m kind of optimistic,” Montoya says. “I’m getting out, and I’m pretty glad this program’s there, because I’ve been locked up so long. There are going to be people down the line to help walk me through the next stages.”
The program is designed for inmates ages 45 and older who have been imprisoned for at least 15 years, including offenders with parole-eligible life sentences (but excluding sex offenders and arsonists). It provides a transitional reintegration for selected prisoners who have behaved well, acknowledged their crimes, and shown remorse.
Modeled after a successful Canadian program created specifically for lifers, the Long-Term Offender Program pairs inmates with mentors — former convicts who know firsthand what it’s like to walk out of prison after decades inside.