TIMES WATCHDOG | In failing to make public the dates prisoners were to be released and the actual dates they were freed, the Department of Corrections is making it impossible to independently check the agency’s review.
A month after the state Department of Corrections (DOC) acknowledged that for years it miscalculated sentences for certain violent criminals — letting hundreds out of prison too early — the agency has failed to disclose essential information that would allow the public to check its work in trying to fix those errors.
The department has not fulfilled ongoing requests by The Seattle Times and others to fully disclose records for up to 3,200 prisoners the agency estimates may have been released early by mistake.
Most critical is the state’s failure to specify when prisoners were to be released along with their actual release date — even for cases officials say have been cleared. Without those dates, it is impossible for victims’ families, the media or anyone who might be interested to check whether the DOC has wrongly cleared cases in which an inmate has committed a crime while he or she still should have been in prison.
“It’s not intentional; it’s more unintentional,” said DOC spokesman Jeremy Barclay. “It just takes a little bit more time to populate those (data) fields and get them posted so that you and everybody can see them on the website.”
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For the few dozen prisoners already returned to custody, however, data fields on the DOC website do show release dates.
Since Gov. Jay Inslee and Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke publicly announced the prisoner-release problem in December — which some DOC staff knew about in 2012 — the agency has methodically worked to review cases of inmates potentially affected by the error.
The DOC periodically has posted information on those whose cases have been reviewed. As of Thursday night, the website listed the names of nearly 1,500 inmates released between December 2011 and December 2015.
Of those, 108 former inmates, or about 7 percent, are to be returned to custody, according to the website, or already have been apprehended to serve additional time. That figure includes 28 people accused or convicted of committing new crimes when they still should have been in prison. Two of the alleged re-offenders are charged with killing people — one in Bellevue, the other in Spokane.
The DOC has posted detailed information on 87 cases of those who are back in custody, including each offender’s name, conviction information and two dates: when the inmate was mistakenly released, and when he or she actually should have been let go.
But for most cases reviewed so far — including more than 1,000 for which the DOC has deemed an offender complied with post-release conditions and does not owe additional prison time — the agency has not disclosed the dates inmates should have been released.
Barclay said lists of all inmates potentially released early — along with names, dates and other information requested for weeks by The Seattle Times and others — simply don’t exist.
“It seems odd, it seems peculiar that there’s not a master list that we’re working off of,” he said. “But there’s just not a list. They’re building the lists as they actually go through and manually check these cases one by one.”
What is clear is that DOC can disclose detailed information about any of these cases if it chooses.
And so far, it mostly hasn’t.
Such information is key to determining whether the DOC has made more mistakes.
Based on information the agency has provided, The Times has found one error in the review process. This month, the DOC identified offender Junaid R. Hall on its list of inmates who are required to return to custody.
But the agency didn’t include Hall’s name on a shorter list on its website that identifies those convicted or accused of committing new crimes during the period of their mistaken release.
The Times checked Hall’s name against state courts records and found he’d been convicted in Pierce County Superior Court of a felony firearms offense that occurred while he should have been in prison. He’s also been charged with a burglary.
After a reporter’s inquiry, the DOC listed his name among the re-offenders.
Although the sentencing-miscalculation problem dates to 2002, the DOC initially has focused on reviewing cases involving inmates potentially affected by the problem who were released during the past four years.
That focus on the most recent cases is based on legal advice to Pacholke that the DOC can’t take into custody most offenders mistakenly released before December 2011, Barclay said. Under a state Supreme Court ruling, prisoners released early by mistake can earn credit for time remaining on their sentence for each day they’re out, so long as they keep out of trouble.
Still, DOC officials have said the agency will review each case dating to 2002.
This month, Pacholke and Barclay said that to make sure none of those freed before December 2011 committed any heinous crimes during their mistaken release, the agency conducted a cursory review.
“We looked for murders, rapes, Class A felonies that are considered the worst of the worst,” Barclay said. “And what the agency has reported is that we didn’t find any.”
But based on a review of a DOC database previously obtained, The Times compiled a list of offenders potentially affected by the sentencing error and found at least a dozen had been charged with or convicted of Class A felonies within two years of their projected release date.
The Times review, which only included DOC cases with sentences handed down between 2002 and 2007, cannot determine whether any of the offenders allegedly committed the new crimes when they still should have been in prison because the agency has not provided any information about cases impacted by the sentencing error before December 2011.
Officials have said prisoners were mistakenly released an average 58 days early. One miscalculation shaved off two years.