Some Washington felons may be headed back to prison after a computer error mistakenly allowed them to be released early.
Gov. Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that 3,200 Washington prisoners were let go before their sentences were complete. For the last 13 years, a Department of Corrections computer software program incorrectly calculated credit for “good time” served. The error affects about three-percent of all state inmates during that time period.
The governor says he’s ordered immediate action to correct the long-standing problem, and ordered an external review to determine how this happened and why it took so long to address, even though the problem was discovered in 2012.
“These were serious errors with serious implications,” Gov. Inslee said. “When I learned of this I ordered DOC to fix this, fix it fast, and fix it right.” The Governor’s office says it was alerted to the mistake last week.
Department of Corrections new Secretary, Dan Pacholke, called the situation an “unforgivable error.”
During a press conference in the governor’s office he said, “I’ve apologized to the governor personally on behalf of the Department of Corrections. I want to offer the same apology to the public.”
State officials say the problem dates back to a July 2002 ruling by the Washington Supreme Court. It requires DOC apply “good time” credit earned in county jails. Offenders with sentencing enhancements are supposed to be exempt from that, but the DOC computer applied it anyway.
The amount of days prisoners did not serve ranges from “a couple of days” to 600, but the governor’s chief legal counsel, Nick Brown, says the median number is 49.
The state is working with local law enforcement to identify those inmates who need to go back and complete their sentences, either in prison or work release. So far, that’s seven people. Five are already in custody. Brown expects that number to increase, but says most of the offenders impacted will not be re-incarcerated because of a previous Supreme Court ruling. Their time back home in the community will count day for day.
DOC learned of the problem in 2012 when a crime victim’s family did their own calculations on their offender’s release. The state says the sequencing fix was launched at that time, but for reasons that will be investigated, it was repeatedly delayed. Only when DOC’s new chief information officer discovered the problem, was leadership notified.
Secretary Pacholke says he just learned of the error last week, and does not know if the previous administration had any knowledge of it. “How that did not rise up in the agency to the highest levels is not clear to me,” Pacholke said.
“That this problem was allowed to continue for 13 years is deeply disappointing to me, totally unacceptable and, frankly, maddening,” Inslee said.
The software is expected to be updated and fixed by early January. Until then, Gov. Inslee halted all further releases of inmates with sentencing enhancements until a hand calculation is done, the numbers are verified, and the release is personally approved.
Two retired federal prosecutors, Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone from the firm of Yarmuth Wilsdon PLLC, were hired to conduct an independent review.
“I have a lot of questions about how and why this happened, and I understand that members of the public will have those same questions,” Gov. Inslee said. “I expect the external investigation will bring the transparency and accountability we need to make sure this issue is resolved.”
Offenders with questions can call 360-725-8213.
Resources available on the DOC website: