The alleged new crimes occurred when the freed prisoners should have been serving their sentences. Earlier this week, the state said because of a calculating error, up to 3,200 inmates since 2002 had been released early.

Share story

OLYMPIA — Three prisoners released too soon are believed to have committed new offenses and will need to be returned to state custody, said state Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke.

Gov. Jay Inslee this week announced that because of a software error, sentences for certain prisoners had been miscalculated since 2002. The mistake has freed as many as 3,200 prisoners early.

Some Department of Corrections (DOC) staffers had known about the problem since 2012 and failed to fix it. Inslee has announced an independent investigation.

Corrections officials in a Thursday telephone news conference wouldn’t speak to the nature of the crimes they believe were committed by the three former prisoners, why they are suspected, where those offenders might be, or the crimes that sent them to prison in the first place.

They did say the alleged new crimes occurred while the newly freed prisoners should have been serving out their sentences.

Pacholke said corrections officials are working to identify and return prisoners who need to serve out their terms.

“We’re casting a wide net and doing extensive reviews of each case,” he said.

Pacholke downplayed any additional risk that mistakenly released prisoners pose to the community. He cited data that an average 10.5 percent of inmates released from prison commit another crime in their first year out.

“This group is probably going to wind up being comparable to the overall statistic,” he said.

While law enforcement seeks those three offenders, five others have been returned to state custody. In a review of recent early releases, corrections officials have identified an additional 27 offenders — including the three believed to have committed crimes — who may need to be returned to prison.

The vast majority of offenders freed by mistake likely would not have to be returned to state custody because the state gives day-for-day credit, in most cases, to a prisoner released early who hasn’t been found to break any laws since.

Early estimates indicate prisons released certain offenders an average 55 days before they were supposed to be freed.

Corrections officials Thursday said the five offenders back in state custody were released between Dec. 7 and Dec. 15. They had been serving time on a variety of charges, including assault, robbery, burglary and unlawful possession of a weapon.

Those offenders now have adjusted release dates that range from Jan. 12 to Feb. 24.

Officials declined to say where those apprehensions were made — other than “in a variety of different locations” — or how they were undertaken.

The reason given was that specifics could create future operational risks.

Inslee and Pacholke have said they learned of the problem only last week. Pacholke, who took over the department in October after serving as deputy secretary, said Thursday he has not been in touch with his predecessor, former Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner.

In an email Wednesday to The Seattle Times, Warner, who headed the department from July 2011 to October of this year, declined to answer questions about the early-release issue but pledged to cooperate in the investigation.

“Obviously, any early release of an inmate from prison to the community is a serious public safety issue and I share the concerns of the Governor, DOC Secretary Pacholke, victims groups and other important law enforcement stakeholders,” Warner wrote. “At this point, I do not intend to grant interviews with the media, so as to not interfere with the deliberate investigation the Governor has ordered. I do intend to fully cooperate with those leading the investigation process.”

Corrections officials this week have said they were unaware of the problem until a victim’s family alerted the department in 2012. A software fix was scheduled, but got caught up in repeated IT delays and was never made.

Inslee said this week the software change will be made early next month.

The problem stemmed from “good time” credits applied to prisoners who receive what are known as sentence “enhancements” for crimes committed under certain circumstances.

The sentencing enhancements associated with the calculation error are firearm enhancement, sex-offense enhancement and deadly-weapon enhancement, according to the DOC.

Those add extra prison time: for example, an additional five years per charge for using a firearm, or an extra two years for using another type of deadly weapon.

A DOC analysis has said the error affected about 3 percent of all releases.

The governor also has ordered the DOC to halt all releases of prisoners whose sentences could have been affected until a hand calculation is done to make sure inmates are being released at the correct time.

The state has retained two former federal prosecutors — Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone of Seattle-based law firm Yarmuth Wilsdon — to conduct the independent investigation of the error.