Legislation intended to improve the state Department of Corrections — after last year’s revelations that offenders were being mistakenly released early — likely won’t pass this year.
OLYMPIA — Legislation intended to improve the state Department of Corrections (DOC) — and add oversight to the agency — is likely dead for the year.
The proposed changes come after the DOC’s long-running mistaken early release of prisoners, as well as the agency’s struggle to interpret Washington’s complex sentencing laws.
But Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, on Tuesday blamed Gov. Jay Inslee for the failure of his legislation, SB 5952, to move through the Democratic-controlled House.
Padden, a co-leader of a Republican investigation last year into the early-release problems, made his remarks at a committee work session he called to discuss DOC issues.
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“We’ve received reports that it’s the governor’s office that’s put pressure on the [House] speaker not to bring that bill up in the House,” said Padden, chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
“If we don’t enact some of these reforms, we could be right back in the same boat that we were, that caused the early release scandal,” Padden said.
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith disputed that account.
“We let the chairs of the House and Senate committees know we had concerns but there was no ‘heavy lobbying,’ ” Smith wrote in an email.
Concern in the governor’s office focused around the creation of an independent ombuds office to help address problems that arise in the agency, according to a letter sent to Padden from Inslee’s office this week.
In the letter, Inslee’s office said it believed the proposed ombuds office would duplicate other government functions such as whistleblower investigations.under law, and therefore was unnecessary.
But Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland and chair of the House Public Safety Committee, described the governor’s objections in stronger terms.
“The governor’s office still strenuously objected to the bill,” Goodman said.
Goodman said he was open to allowing SB 5952 — an update to a bill introduced earlier this year — to move forward.
But lawmakers this year remain in a third overtime session deadlocked over a capital-construction budget and a rural water-use bill.
And legislators finished a new two-year operating budget in just enough time to stop a July 1 partial government shutdown.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said by the time the DOC bill was introduced, lawmakers were focused primarily on the budget and court-ordered education funding.
The bill comes after a few rough years for the DOC.
Between 2002 and 2015, a sentence miscalculation freed up to 2,700 offenders before their actual release date, according to the latest estimates by the DOC.
Two people were killed in 2015 by offenders who should still have been confined, officials have said. Several officials resigned or were demoted.
In 2016, it was revealed that DOC let at least five sex offenders off supervision early due to errors — including three who were supposed to be supervised for life.
The agency also has struggled to decipher court sentencing orders that can be illegible, confusing or incorrect.
That problem led a DOC acting secretary last year to acknowledge that the agency is holding offenders in custody “that probably have disputable release dates.”
SB 5952 includes a provision originally sponsored by Goodman to create a work sheet that spells out how the sentence should be calculated.
The bill would also authorize a legislative audit of the agency’s IT and records departments, and a study of Washington’s sentencing laws.