The Senate Law and Justice Committee on Monday convened a work session to discuss the mistaken early release of 3,200 prisoners by the Department of Corrections since 2002.
The error was a result of a coding miscalculation in the DOC electronic records system. Errors were discovered by DOC management in 2012, but 16 software updates were delayed and the issue was never fixed.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, started the work session by recognizing the two people who died as a result of individuals who should have been incarcerated. He said that the error was “disturbing” and wanted to know why something wasn’t done in 2012.
Secretary of the Department of Corrections Dan Pacholke opened his testimony by apologizing, saying it was a “breech of public trust.”
“It’s probably the largest single error I’ve ever heard of agency history in the sense of its impacts to public safety,” he said.
Pacholke took over the agency in October and said he learned of the error in December. Since then, employees have been calculating release dates by manually. He said a computer software fix has undergone testing for the last two weeks and is expected to be implemented today, Jan 12.
An independent investigation is being conducted by the governor’s office. Pacholke said he’s confident that it will result in answers.
Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, asked Pacholke if the DOC “deprioritized” the fix to save taxpayer money, to which Pacholke said no.
Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, asked if there is “any problem with the culture or environment at DOC that would permit this sort of thing.”
Pacholke replied, “ I don’t believe you can cast it as a wide brush against the entire agency.”
Nick Brown, the governor’s legal counsel, is in charge of the external investigation, which is running independently of the DOC. The governor hired two retired federal prosecutors to conduct the investigation to determine the facts regarding the incident. The governor set a 60-day limit on the investigation.
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, questioned how many people were aware of the problem. “People know when people get out of jail,” she said. “If people have a client list, you know when your money is coming out of jail. Therefore, I think there were a lot of attorneys who knew their people getting out early.”
As a result of the error, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a directive, on Monday, Jan. 11 to all executive branch agency directors to increase accountability of state IT systems.
“Every agency director and every person responsible for the critical functions of our state has a responsibility to ensure they are administered correctly,” Inslee said in a statement.
“What happened at the Department of Corrections must not happen again,” he wrote.