The highest-ranking corrections official believed to have known in 2012 about the state’s mistaken early release of prisoners said Monday she regretted not making hand calculations to make sure offenders weren’t freed too soon.
OLYMPIA — The highest-ranking corrections official believed to have known in 2012 about the state’s mistaken early release of prisoners said Monday she regretted not making hand calculations to make sure offenders weren’t freed too soon.
Denise Doty, a former assistant secretary for the state Department of Corrections (DOC), told a state Senate committee that the agency had, in the past, done manual calculations to fix problems with sentences.
But in December 2012 an email memo from the state Attorney General’s Office advised against it, in favor of waiting for a software programming fix. That fix was delayed 16 times and ultimately wasn’t made until earlier this year.
“I regret that,” Doty said, referring to the decision not to make hand calculations.
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She also said she doesn’t remember ever notifying former Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner of the problem. It was Doty’s practice to bring up such issues with Warner, who, at the time, was her direct supervisor, she said.
But, “I just have no recollection if this would have come up” in weekly meetings between Warner and the agency’s executive staff, said Doty, who resigned earlier this month from a leadership post at another state agency.
“What normally would happen is, that would come up, there would be a short discussion on what to do and [we’d] move on,” she said.
Doty acknowledged that even with the agency’s problems getting the programming fix made, the hand calculations would have stopped offenders from being erroneously released early.
In the hearing, Republican state lawmakers continued to hammer away at Warner, who held the top DOC job between July 2011 and October 2015.
An investigative report commissioned by Gov. Jay Inslee released last week said Warner did not know about the early releases.
But in the session of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, GOP senators questioned DOC officials — including current DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke — on Warner’s leadership.
Doty described Warner as not engaged with staff, saying it was “extremely difficult to get decisions” from him.
Pacholke described Warner as “distant and aloof.”
Pacholke, who was appointed DOC chief in October but recently announced his plans to step down in mid-March, said the investigative report commissioned by Inslee got some points wrong.
David Dunnington, the agency’s IT business manager whom the report named as bearing primary responsibility for delaying the fix, was not accurately portrayed in the report, Pacholke told lawmakers.
Dunnington has presented evidence to investigators that he was told by superiors to lower the priority of some types of software fixes, which included the one addressing early releases, Pacholke said.
But after Monday’s hearing, Nick Brown, Inslee’s general counsel, said the investigators looked at Dunnington’s evidence and believe their report is accurate. Brown said the investigators — two former federal prosecutors — could have cleared up that issue had they been invited by lawmakers to speak.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee expects to hold more hearings into events surrounding the early prison releases.
The software-programming error dated to 2002. Although DOC officials learned of the problem in 2012, a software fix was delayed 16 times. Inslee and Pacholke have said they learned of the problem in mid-December 2015.
A recent DOC review of more than 1,500 potentially affected inmates released since December 2011 showed three-quarters of them had been mistakenly released early. If that projection holds, about 2,800 offenders since 2002 might have been freed before their correct release dates.
In 2015, two people were killed by offenders who still should have been in prison, officials have said.
Other inmates released early and trying to rebuild their lives were rounded up and returned to custody to serve the remainder of their sentences.