State lawmakers Tuesday approved a pair of votes authorizing subpoenas to gather records related to the state’s mistaken early release of up to 3,200 prisoners since 2002.
OLYMPIA — State lawmakers Tuesday approved issuing subpoenas to gather records for a probe of the state’s mistaken early release of prisoners.
Legislators authorized the subpoenas along two party-line votes, with Republicans favoring the move and Democrats opposing it.
The subpoenas are part of an investigation announced last week by GOP lawmakers into the sentencing-calculating error discovered in 2012.
The state Department of Corrections (DOC) prepared a software-programming fix at the time, but it was delayed 16 times — for reasons that remain to be explained. A fix was implemented last week.
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In announcing the problem Dec. 22 with DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee saidhe had retained two former federal prosecutors, Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone, to investigate.
Senate Republicans have said they are not satisfied the investigation ordered by the governor can be considered independent. The lawmakers intend to use the subpoenas to gather records from Inslee’s office and DOC regarding the error
It’s unclear whether the subpoenas will speed the release of information related to the sentence-calculating error, and what information might be revealed.
In a statement Tuesday evening, Jaime Smith, Inslee’s spokeswoman, said the information sought by Republican lawmakers through the subpoenas is already being processed in response to an earlier public-records request by Sen. Mike Padden, Republican chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
“There is no information to be gained through a subpoena that isn’t already available to them through normal public records procedures,” Smith wrote in prepared remarks.
“As the governor said last week, it seems more likely that two former federal prosecutors are more likely to get to the bottom of this than one political party in an election year.”
A portion of the records from Inslee’s office could be released as soon as this week, according to a Jan. 6 letter from the governor’s office in response to Padden’s request.
The subpoenas were approved Tuesday evening in the Senate Rules Committee, and earlier in the day by the Law and Justice Committee.
Speaking for the resolution calling for the subpoenas, Padden, of Spokane Valley, invoked the names of the two people killedallegedly by two different prisoners during the time they still should have been in prison.
Padden noted that while he thinks the governor has an obligation to investigate the error, legislators have an independent obligation to review the problem.
“Our investigation is going to be different from the governor’s,” said Padden, later adding that it will be a “public process.”
“People will be under oath, and there will be a record of what was said,” he added.
Saying he worried the subpoena could impede the prosecutors’ investigation, Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, voted Tuesday morning against the resolution.
Pedersen also noted there have been several committee sessions dealing with the issue since the beginning of last week and Pacholke has appeared at three of them.
“I believe that the governor’s office and the Department of Corrections have cooperated substantially with us,” said Pedersen, the committee’s ranking Democrat. “And there’s no reason to believe that that is about to stop.”
Padden said last week his committee had not invited a representative from the governor’s office to attend last week’s hearing that included Pacholke.
Tuesday’s votes come days after former DOC Secretary Bernie Warner wrote in an email to The Seattle Times that he had not been aware of the sentence-calculating error until recently.
Pacholke and Inslee have said they were informed of the problem in mid-December.
Not all possible early inmate releases have been reviewed. Officials have said 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 have been rounded up by DOC to serve time remaining on their sentences, including some who have been trying to rebuild their lives.