A GOP-led investigation into the state’s early release of prisoners is widening its investigation to focus more on former Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner.
OLYMPIA — A GOP-led investigation into the state’s early release of prisoners is widening its investigation to focus more on former Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, sent a letter Monday to Gov. Jay Inslee requesting more information related to Warner.
Padden, who is chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, has been leading a legislative probe into the state Department of Corrections (DOC) prison-sentence miscalculations that freed some offenders early going back to 2002.
An investigation commissioned by Inslee’s office released a report in February concluding that ignored emails, flawed advice and communication problems allowed the sentence-calculating problem to go unsolved for years after the problem was identified in December 2012.
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But in public hearings with witnesses, Padden and Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, have focused more on Warner, who held the top job at DOC between July 2011 and October 2015.
“Many of the witnesses have called into question whether the management style of Former Secretary Warner was a potential contributing factor in the multiple delays … by the agency’s IT department,” Padden wrote Monday to Inslee.
“These questions naturally also raise the issue of whether you and your staff provided adequate oversight to an agency during a time of such catastrophic failure,” Padden added.
Among other things, Padden asked for copies of emails, texts and other communications between Warner and members of the governor’s office, including Inslee.
Padden also requested information related to Warner’s calendar schedule and travel-related documents from his time as secretary.
Though the software-programming error was identified in December 2012, DOC decided not to manually calculate prison sentences to stop the early releases from continuing.
And a programming solution for the problem requested that month was delayed more than a dozen times over the years — and not made until earlier this year.
Two people were killed by offenders who should have still been in prison in 2015, officials have said. Others freed early and trying to restart their lives were rounded up after the problem was publicly announced in December 2015.
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the governor’s office would comply with the request but questioned Padden’s move.
“At this point, they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and thousands and thousands of staff hours, and have not produced anything of note,” said Smith, adding later: “I’m struggling to understand what it is that they’re looking for at this point.”
Through a spokesman, Padden declined to comment. Warner didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
O’Ban called the request for documents necessary because Warner “seemed under-covered in the governor’s report.”
The committee is likely to hold more hearings, O’Ban said, but not this week.
Padden’s letter caught Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle and member of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, by surprise.
“It feels like this is really heading into a political realm,” Frockt said.
The governor’s report identified several state employees as sharing primary blame for the failure to correct the problem. Since February, several officials have resigned from government jobs or been demoted.
Padden’s letter comes days after he acknowledged that the Senate investigation may not pay for all the work done by Davis Wright Tremaine, the Seattle law firm contracted to provide assistance with the probe.
Davis Wright Tremaine reviewed more than 70,000 pages of documents and interviewed more than two dozen witnesses.
In the firm’s absence, legislative staff may now have to write the investigative report, which is expected in April or early May, Padden has said.