Former Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner, says he didn’t know until notified recently by the governor’s general counsel. Warner’s successor at DOC, Dan Pacholke, says Warner’s assistant secretary knew of the mistaken early release of prisoners in 2012.
OLYMPIA — Former state Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner said Friday he learned only in recent weeks of his department’s calculation errors that allowed the early release of up to 3,200 prisoners.
Warner’s comments, in an email to The Seattle Times, came the same day his successor told state lawmakers that one of Warner’s assistant secretaries knew of the issue in 2012.
The discovery of the problem — incorrectly programmed software that cut time from some inmates’ sentences — “was passed up at least as high as an assistant secretary,” Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Dan Pacholke told the House General Government & Information Technology Committee.
After Friday’s committee session, Pacholke confirmed that the assistant secretary aware of the problem was Denise Doty, who at the time reported to Warner.
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In his email late Friday, Warner wrote that he hadn’t heard of the issue until being notified recently by the governor’s general counsel.
“I first learned of this issue in a call from Nick Brown about a month ago,” Warner wrote. “I was shocked to learn that the Department was releasing inmates inaccurately for the past thirteen years and when it was found out in my administration, it was not addressed.
“I fully support and hope the investigation gets to the bottom of what went wrong so that such a public safety breach will never happen again.”
Doty oversaw the Administrative Services Division at DOC. The division handled, among other things, records and information technology, Pacholke said.
In 2012, all DOC assistant secretaries reported directly to Warner, Pacholke said.
Doty has worked for the state Office of Financial Management (OFM) since the start of 2015, where she is assistant director of data and technology, according to a spokesman for the office. In 2014, she was loaned out from DOC to work with OFM on a project.
In an email to The Seattle Times, Doty declined to comment but wrote that she is “cooperating fully with the independent investigation” commissioned by Gov. Jay Inslee. The governor retained two former federal prosecutors for the inquiry.
During Friday’s committee session, Pacholke criticized DOC’s Administrative Services Division as lacking discipline. For example, he said, if an incident occurs in a prison, there are protocols to contact staff and managers.
“Within our headquarters unit, within the Administrative Services Division specifically, I don’t believe that discipline exists, and that’s part of the breakdown,” Pacholke told lawmakers.
His comments highlight that at least some high-level staff within DOC were aware of the sentencing problem.
Pacholke and Inslee have said they learned of the problem in mid-December, and announced it publicly about a week later. They have said up to 3,200 prisoners may have been released early since 2002.
According to Inslee and Pacholke, the family of a victim in December 2012 notified DOC that an inmate was to be released too early.
The agency found a wider problem, and prepared a programming fix. That fix was delayed 16 times — for reasons that remain to be explained. A fix was put in place this week.
Not all possible early inmate releases have been reviewed. Officials say two people were killed in 2015 in situations allegedly connected to two prisoners who had been released and should still have been in prison. The two have been charged.
Other offenders who are starting over have been rounded up by DOC to serve time remaining on their sentences.
After the problem came to light in December 2012, Doty was copied on an email from Wendy Stigall, the DOC records-program administrator, to Kathy Gastreich, the risk-management director.
Stigall’s email discussed an information-technology request for a programming change and its “potential to add time to several hundred offenders.”
Lower in the email string was advice sent to Stigall by an assistant attorney general, advising the sentencing-calculation error was not urgent enough to require extra resources to recalculate prison sentences by hand.
Such a move might have stopped early releases.
Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson’s email to Stigall instead advised a corrections staffer the agency should start reprogramming the computer system.
Inslee has criticized DOC and Attorney General’s Office staff for the decision not to then calculate sentences by hand.
“That was pretty obvious to me that that had to be done,” Inslee said in a legislative forum Jan. 7. “Why it was not obvious to DOC officials, why it was not obvious to assistant attorney generals, is mind-boggling.”
It remains unclear how many agency managers and staff in 2012 were aware of the problem.
In her emailed advice to Stigall, Larson copied Paul Weisser, a managing assistant attorney general who still holds that position.
Larson also copied an email account named “ATG MI COR Oly Advice.” That name indicates it was an email list for Attorney General’s Office staff in that agency’s Corrections Division, according to Peter Lavallee, communications director.
In another email, Stigall asked Elaine Downey, a records supervisor, to read Larson’s advice.
State lawmakers have announced intentions to hold their own investigation.