There is an appalling lack of urgency in fixing a known problem leading to the early release of inmates.
RECORDS released last week in the unfolding “good time” scandal at the state Department of Corrections underscore an appalling apathy about good government in Olympia.
When the DOC first learned in 2012 that it had been miscalculating release dates for inmates for the past decade, the agency’s staff asked the Attorney General’s Office about fixing the error in a database. Instead of giving a maximum of one-third off an offender’s sentence for following prison rules — known as “good time” — the agency was giving up to 58 percent off. And continued doing so for three more years.
This scandal falls squarely on Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration. Already, prosecutors have charged released inmates in the deaths of at least two innocent civilians: A 32-year-old Bellevue woman, Lindsay Hill, was killed in a vehicle driven by an ex-inmate released too early; and a 17-year-old was killed during a robbery in Spokane in May.
Inslee must hold employees accountable for lapses. More important, he needs to somehow reassure Washingtonians that the DOC, or other agencies, will not tolerate such incompetent management.
The mistake had been brought to the DOC’s attention by a victim’s family members. They astutely realized that the man, named Curtis Robinson, convicted of assaulting their son with a deadly weapon, would get out of prison months early.
The state attorney general must wear two hats — not only advising state agencies on legal issues, but also, and importantly, looking out for the public’s interest.
In this case, the Attorney General’s Office — run by Rob McKenna at the time, in his last month in office — forgot about the public.
An assistant attorney general gave this advice to the DOC: Fix the release date for Robinson, but it was “not so urgent” to immediately recalculate the sentences of other offenders. That could wait until a lengthy recoding of the DOC’s computer system.
“This is something that the DOC has identified internally, rather than something that is being forced upon it by an outside entity such as the court,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson.
Translation: If the problem can stay hidden from the public, it’s “not so urgent.”
Nevermind the public’s risk or the state’s clear liability for knowingly letting felons out early.
The attorney general’s bad advice was compounded when the DOC failed to do the long-term fix. On Dec. 27, 2012, a DOC administrator submitted a request to change “good time” calculations in the agency’s Offender Management Network Information (OMNI) system. “This needs to be a … priority,” the request reads.
For reasons still unexplained, that request was delayed 16 times until finally red-flagged by a new DOC information-technology administrator last month. By then, about 3,200 inmates had been released early.
The DOC has blamed the delay in part on a lack of internal technological know-how, even though it pays nearly $1 million a year to a contractor, Sierra-Cedar, to manage OMNI.
The picture that emerges from the “good time” scandal is one of bureaucratic officiousness — papers passed and boxes checked, without anyone in Olympia looking out for the taxpayers.