A report from the the governor’s office into the Department of Corrections sentencing error concluded that “incompetence” and “systematic failure of the process” were found at “institutional and individual levels.”
The sentencing error resulted in the early release of more than 3,000 prisoners. Two people were killed in 2015 by prisoners who were mistakenly released early.
Gov. Jay Inslee hired two former federal prosecutors to lead a seven-week investigation that included interviews with nearly 60 witnesses and the review of more then 134,000 documents.
Investigators concluded that there was no malicious or deliberate effort by those involved with the software error, but it did find a failure of management.
Seven individuals were listed in the report as DOC employees who were aware of the problem. Gov. Jay Inslee said he will make “personnel actions” this week regarding those individuals.
“Fundamentally, they did not act on what should be an obvious thing for the Department of Corrections,” he said. “It’s inexcusable.”
Inslee added that it wasn’t just about the people, but about “a system that set them up for failure.”
“There were systemic errors over several years that undermined the core mission of DOC, which is to protect the public,” Inslee said. “The series of errors, of omission and commission, combined for tragic results. When mistakes of this kind result in these kinds of consequences, people need to be held accountable.”
The report says that DOC employee Wendy Stigall, who first learned of the error in 2012, did a “admirable job of notifying DOC managers and others of the problem” but the IT request to fix the error was continually delayed and even downgraded in its level of severity. Investigators said that those involved did not understand the magnitude of the error.
Inslee said the “highest level person in the organizational chart at the DOC who knew about this” has already resigned. Denise Doty was an assistant secretary of the DOC in 2012 and since left to join the Office of Financial Management. She resigned from that job earlier this month.
Former Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larsen advised the DOC in 2012 not to hand-calculate the sentences, a decision Inslee called “unacceptable.” She resigned from the Attorney General’s office in February.
The report outlines eight recommendations the DOC should take to prevent another error from happening. It recommends that advice from the Attorney General’s office to the DOC be first reviewed and approved by a supervisor. Other recommendations include a restructuring of the IT governance process, hand calculating of offender release dates pending a sentencing fix in the computer system and the creation of an ombudsman position at the DOC.
Senate Republicans who are conducting a separate investigation into the DOC error responded to the governor’s report at a press conference Thursday. They said that another DOC computer project called “Strong R,” which determines the level of risk posed by inmates, was given a higher priority than the sentencing fix.
They said more responsibility should be given to former DOC Secretary Bernie Warner, who led the agency from 2011 until last year.
“That prioritization problem was amplified, if not exacerbated, by the fact that Bernie Warner had his own priorities and the priority was this Strong R or Advanced Corrections program,” said Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Pierce County. “It was drawing away from resources that would have been deployed through the regular maintenance.”
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said that the governor’s investigation failed to look at mismanagement at the highest level of the agency, suggesting it goes higher than Doty.
“I think there more to the story than that,” he said.
Padden is the chair of the the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which held a hearing on Thursday morning as part of their ongoing investigation. The committee heard from current and former IT directors in an effort to find why a software fix was delayed for so many years.
DOC chief information officer Ira Feuer took over the position last August under former DOC Secretary Bernie Warner. He said he was told the IT department was a “well established organization,” but quickly discovered otherwise.
“They just didn’t have good process in place and good governance in place, good prioritization in place,” Feuer said. Feuer also said that there was a lack of communication in the IT department.
“I’m not sure anyone knew who was making decisions and prioritization,” Feuer said. “So there were a lot of problems. It didn’t seem to be just one individual. It was a systemic problem.”
He reported the situation to former DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke in November after discovering the extent of the problem.
Padden also announced at the hearing that Attorney Monty Gray has been removed from the Senate’s investigation for sending an “improper” email. In the email, Gray names three people that he thinks the governor will fire.
“I apologize and Mr. Bartlett has apologized too and I personally think that was improper for him to do,” Padden said.
The Senate is scheduled for another hearing Monday morning.