State Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke said he hopes his resignation meets one Republican lawmaker’s “need for blood.”
The head of the state Department of Corrections (DOC) stepped down Saturday amid a controversy over the early release of certain violent criminals, saying he hoped his resignation would satisfy a Republican lawmaker’s “need for blood.”
DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke, in an email to state Sen. Mike Padden, accused Padden of “blaming and shaming” agency staff and using the early-release problem to wage political warfare.
Pacholke’s abrupt departure comes less than two months after DOC acknowledged that for more than a decade it miscalculated sentences for some of the system’s most violent inmates, letting hundreds out of prison too soon.
“I notify you now of my resignation. I hope it helps meet your need for blood,” Pacholke said in the email to Padden, R-Spokane Valley, who chairs the Senate Law and Justice Committee and who has led a push to issue subpoenas for DOC records as part of an investigation separate from one ordered by Gov. Jay Inslee.
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“I hope it gives you fodder for the press and fulfills your political needs so you can let this agency, our agency, heal. Your posturing does a grave injustice to the 8,200 staff who work for this agency,” Pacholke added.
In a resignation letter to Inslee, Pacholke, 55, called his appointment last fall as DOC secretary the high point of his career.
“That said, no system is ever perfect … I apologize on behalf of the agency for the tragic consequences of this error,” he wrote.
Officials have linked two deaths last year to men who should have still been in prison but who were out because DOC had failed to fix a sentencing software problem. The two former prisoners now face new charges.
Pacholke’s resignation came one day after the GOP-led state Senate voted to oust Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, a move that took Inslee and Democratic lawmakers by surprise. The governor expressed frustration Saturday after losing two Cabinet members in quick succession.
“Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke submitted his resignation this morning, saying he hoped that his move would end the political blood thirst of Senate Republicans,” Inslee said in a statement. “I doubt it will accomplish that, and I’m sorry to see a dedicated public servant end his tenure this way.”
It wasn’t clear Saturday whether Pacholke’s resignation would take effect immediately or who would lead DOC in his stead. A spokeswoman for Inslee declined to make the governor available for further comment.
“Dan was working hard to get the Department of Corrections through difficult times and he clearly felt that would be impossible under the current political climate in Olympia,” the governor said. “I will be working with Dan in the coming days on a transition plan.”
Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson attributed Peterson’s dismissal and Pacholke’s resignation Saturday to efforts by Republicans to undermine Inslee, who is running for re-election this year.
“I don’t think they’ll be sated until November,” said Nelson, D-Maury Island. “Nothing will stop them. They’re going to continue using the Legislature for political purposes.”
Nelson said she wasn’t surprised to hear about the DOC secretary bowing out after watching GOP lawmakers “crucify” Peterson as they pushed her out Friday.
“I saw what they did yesterday to Secretary Peterson,” Nelson said. “Who would want to work as an agency leader in this environment?”
Republican Sen. Mark Miloscia, who chairs the Senate’s Accountability and Reform Committee, fired back in a statement.
“Although Secretary Pacholke inherited a culture of apathy at DOC, he never demonstrated the leadership to inspire change in one of our state’s core services,” Miloscia said. “People are dying as a result of this culture of apathy.”
The GOP senator, who is running for auditor this year, said Pacholke was never qualified to run DOC, and went on to attack the governor.
“The Senate sincerely wants to work with the Inslee administration to make sure taxpayers get the quality services they deserve, but we’re simply not going to get results from unqualified political appointees,” Miloscia said.
Inslee and Pacholke announced the early-release mistake Dec. 22, saying they had learned of it days earlier. They also announced that the problem — a software-programming error — had begun in 2002 and was discovered by some DOC staff in 2012.
A software fix was delayed 16 times and not made until a few weeks ago. Inslee retained two former federal prosecutors to investigate, but some GOP senators have said that inquiry cannot be seen as independent-minded.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, vice chairman of the Law and Justice Committee, told The Associated Press he didn’t think Pacholke needed to bow out Saturday.
“We’re just barely getting into the investigation. It’s too bad that he chose this time to step aside,” O’Ban said.
But Padden vowed to press ahead with the Senate probe.
“Secretary Pacholke resigned for his own reasons. The accusation of a bloodthirsty investigation is clearly an attempt at a diversion to shift focus from the mistakes of DOC,” he said in a statement.
“The investigation is concerned with getting to the bottom of the mess. Two people are dead who should not be. Nothing changes — we are still committed to the investigation.”
Inslee appointed Pacholke to lead DOC last October. He had been deputy secretary since 2014 and had more than 32 years of experience with the agency, having started as a corrections officer. He succeeded Bernie Warner as secretary.
Warner has said he was unaware of the early releases until recently. But Pacholke has said that Warner’s assistant secretary, Denise Doty, knew of the problem.
Doty oversaw the Administrative Services Division at DOC. The division handled, among other things, records and information technology, Pacholke said.
The prisoner-release error came to light in 2012, when a crime victim’s family alerted DOC, and staff then found the wider problem.
Since December, DOC and law enforcement have been rounding up some released inmates who still have time to serve.
The prisoners freed early had been convicted of serious crimes: Their sentences included extra prison time for acts involving deadly weapons or sexual motivation.
DOC has estimated that up to 3,700 inmates were potentially impacted by the error since the department wrongly programmed its sentencing software in 2002.
DOC officials had, as of this week, reviewed the cases of more than 1,500 inmates released since December 2011 and found errors in 76 percent, according to spokesman Andrew Garber. DOC plans to review all cases dating back to 2002.
“If the current pattern holds true, we would expect to see approximately 2,800 offenders who were ultimately affected,” Garber said in an email this week.