Appearing before a legislative committee Monday, the leader of the state Department of Corrections gave few insights into the state’s mistaken early release of prisoners.
OLYMPIA — Questions about the state’s mistaken early release of prisoners kept coming Monday, but Dan Pacholke gave few answers.
Pacholke, secretary of the state Department of Corrections (DOC), appeared before the Senate Law and Justice Committee, where legislators pressed him about the sentence-calculating error that freed as many as 3,200 offenders early since 2002.
After DOC’s new chief information officer became aware of the problem in early November, why did it take more than a month for that information to reach Pacholke and the agency’s senior management?
“I have not asked him that question, nor do I have the answer to it,” said Pacholke, who became secretary in October.
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Could Pacholke shed new light on why, after the problem was first discovered in 2012, an intended software fix was delayed 16 times and never materialized?
Other than information already public, “I really do think it will take a comprehensive investigation to definitively answer your question,” said the secretary.
Could Pacholke give an update on the progress of the independent investigation ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee and how much work is left?
“I don’t receive individual updates, I don’t ask questions of the investigators,” said the secretary. “I just provide them access to information and people.”
On Dec. 22, he and Gov. Jay Inslee announced that an error in calculating prison sentences resulted in the early release of inmates going back to 2002.
While DOC learned of the problem in 2012 and prepared a programming fix to solve it, the fix was never made. A fix is set to be implemented Tuesday, according to Pacholke.
The governor has asked two former federal prosecutors to investigate how the mistake came about and continued after the DOC knew about it.
Two offenders released early are accused in the deaths of two people during the time when the offenders should have still been in prison.
Other inmates have been rounded up to serve out the rest of their terms, including offenders trying to rebuild their lives by getting jobs and re-establishing themselves in their communities.
The prisoners released early had been convicted of serious crimes. Their sentences included “enhancements,” or extra prison time on top of a base sentence, for using a gun or other deadly weapon, or having a sexual motivation, during their crimes.
Enhancement time isn’t supposed to be reduced. Yet, after a 2002 court ruling, DOC’s mistakenly coded software applied credit to the enhancements for time inmates spent in jail before heading to prison.
The software mistake also applied too much time-off credit for good behavior to inmates’ base sentences above what is allowed by law.
The committee, chaired by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, met on the opening day of the state Legislature’s 60-day session.
In his opening remarks, Pacholke apologized for the long-running mistake and called it “a grave breach of public trust.”
Later on, Pacholke described the problem to lawmakers as “probably the largest single error I’ve ever heard of in agency history in the sense of its impacts to public safety.”
Also on Monday, Inslee ordered state agencies to review their technology systems related to areas such as public safety and health, as well as services for the most vulnerable.
The directive comes in response to the sentencing problem, according to a news release from the governor’s office, and also has accountability measures intended to “ensure similar errors are prevented.”