The brief meeting with a state Senate committee was attorney Mark Bartlett’s first public session with lawmakers since being hired to investigate the mistaken early release of prisoners.

Share story

OLYMPIA — Some staff at the state Department of Corrections (DOC) may have known there were issues surrounding the calculation of prison sentences before the agency learned in December 2012 that an inmate was to be released too early, an attorney told state lawmakers Wednesday.

In a brief appearance before the Senate Law and Justice Committee, attorney Mark Bartlett discussed his continuing review of documents gathered as part of a legislative probe of the state’s mistaken early release of prisoners.

“I do believe that there is an indication that people within the Department of Corrections might have been aware at a time before that, that there were issues with regard to how has sentencing enhancements” impacted the length of prison sentences, Bartlett told lawmakers.

He also said that after DOC staff became aware of a problem, “There was definitely at some level an indication that there was knowledge that this was an ongoing issue.”

Bartlett, a former prosecutor who now works at the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine, did not offer details of who at DOC might have known what and when. He noted that the review, so far, has included tens of thousands of documents.

The session marked Bartlett’s first public session with lawmakers since the Senate committee hired him last month to investigate the prisoner-release problem.

After being notified in December 2012 by a crime victim’s family that a prisoner was to be released too early, the agency found a wider problem dating to 2002, involving software programming. A software fix was scheduled but delayed 16 times — for reasons yet to be explained. A fix was implemented recently.

Gov. Jay Inslee in December retained two former federal prosecutors to investigate, but some GOP senators have said that inquiry cannot be considered an independent one.

For their own investigation, Republican senators have issued subpoenas for information regarding the error, and retained Bartlett to assist with the inquiry.

Inslee has said he did not learn of the problem until mid-December. Bartlett told lawmakers that so far, documents are consistent with that timeline.

The update on the legislative investigation comes days after DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke, who also said he didn’t learn of the problem until December, abruptly resigned.

DOC has estimated that as many as 3,700 inmates since 2002 were potentially impacted by the miscalculations. The agency, as of last week, had reviewed more than 1,500 inmates released since December 2011 and found errors in 76 percent. DOC plans to review all cases dating to 2002.

Officials have said two people in 2015 were killed by prisoners while they still should have been in prison. Two former inmates have been charged.

Other offenders freed early and trying to rebuild their lives have been rounded up by DOC to serve time remaining on their sentences.