Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he has accepted the resignation of Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson, who advised corrections officials years ago not to hand calculate prison sentences — something that might have stopped inmates from being released too early.
OLYMPIA — The assistant attorney general who advised state corrections officials not to hand calculate prison sentences as a way to stop the mistaken early release of prisoners has stepped down, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.
Ronda Larson submitted her resignation Thursday, Ferguson said, adding that he had accepted it. Larson, 45, has worked there since 2003.
Her resignation is effective March 1, according to Alison Dempsey-Hall, spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office. Dempsey-Hall did not respond to questions about whether the resignation was related to the sentencing miscalculations, or if Ferguson had asked for Larson’s departure.
The move comes amid investigations — one commissioned by Gov. Jay Inslee, another led by Republican lawmakers — about a long-running problem at the state Department of Corrections (DOC) that led to many inmates being freed early.
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After being notified in December 2012 by a crime victim’s family that a prisoner was to be released too early, DOC found a wider sentencing problem stretching back to 2002, and linked it to software programming. A software fix was then scheduled, but delayed 16 times — for reasons yet to be explained.
Inslee and DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke, who announced Saturday that he would resign, have said they learned of the problem in mid-December 2015.
Larson was one of a handful of state workers so far revealed to be involved in the discussion in December 2012 about what to do with the miscalculation error.
In a Dec. 7, 2012, email to DOC records-program administrator Wendy Stigall, Larson described the problem as “not so urgent” as to require agency staff to recalculate sentences and stop inmates’ early release.
“It would be reasonable to not manually fix the hundreds of sentences … and instead wait for the reprogramming” of the software, Larson wrote in the email.
Doing so would “result in offenders being released earlier than the law allows for the time being,” she wrote. But, given that the problem had been occurring since 2002, “a few more months is not going to make that much difference …” Larson wrote.
“Furthermore, 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,” Larson added. “It is therefore not so urgent as to require the large input of personnel resources to do hand calculations of hundreds of sentences.”
Larson, in her email, recommended the agency do a hand calculation for the offender whose release date was questioned by the crime victim’s family and that DOC “start the long process of reprogramming [the computer system] for everyone else.”
But, “I don’t believe it is necessary, from a risk-management perspective, to do hand calculations now” for all prisoners affected, she wrote.
The advice came under the tenure of the previous attorney general, Rob McKenna, who has said he was not aware of Larson’s advice.
If he or his senior staff had known of the miscalculations, “we would have countermanded her advice,” McKenna said late last year.
Last month, Inslee said the decision back then not to manually calculate sentences and stop early releases was “mind-boggling.”
DOC has estimated that as many as 3,700 inmates since 2002 have been potentially impacted by the miscalculations. As of last week, the agency has reviewed more than 1,500 inmates released since December 2011 and found that three-quarters of them were mistakenly released early. The agency plans to review all cases dating to 2002.
In 2015, two people were killed by prisoners while they still should have been in prison, officials have said.
Other offenders released early and trying to rebuild their lives have been rounded up by DOC to serve the remainder of their sentences.