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Thursday, April 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Spokane

State attorney did not realize risk of early prison releases

OLYMPIA – An attorney for the state did not realize how big a problem Washington faced when she was told a faulty computer program was releasing inmates from prison before their sentences were served, a new report concludes.

Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson “failed to recognize the risk to public safety” when she told Department of Corrections employees in late 2012 they did not have to calculate every inmate’s release dates by hand until the computer was fixed, an investigation by the attorney general’s office said. Even though she was aware that inmates had been released early for a decade, she did not recognize the state was at risk for lawsuits.

“She also failed to recognize that inmates had already been released who should be returned to prison,” investigators said in a report released Thursday.

Larson resigned from the attorney general’s office earlier this year after the early-release problems came to light. Investigators said she should have discussed the situation with her superiors when it was brought to her attention. Except for an email sent to her immediate supervisor, which apparently was never read, she didn’t discuss the problem with anyone in the office.

The problem did not become generally known until late 2015, when a new information technology officer at the Department of Corrections discovered the request to update the computer program had been repeatedly delayed, and ordered it fixed.

The department then did some calculations and discovered as many as 3,200 early releases had occurred dating back to 2002. That’s when the department reprogrammed its computer to comply with a state Supreme Court ruling on how to calculate earned good time for inmates. No one at the department realized the sentences were being miscalculated until the family of an assault victim contacted the department in 2012 to question the impending release of the assailant, Curtis Robinson.

After that error was discovered, a member of the Corrections staff contacted Larson, the attorney, who said the department should recalculate Robinson’s release date by hand and correct the computer program. After a Corrections employee told her the program would be fixed “in a few months,” Larson said it wasn’t necessary to calculate all inmates’ release dates by hand until the fix was made.

“The reprogramming did not occur for three years, during which time felons continued to be released early,” investigators said.

There were no communications between Corrections and the attorney general’s office on the computer fix during that time.

One of the inmates released early, Jeremiah A. Smith, is charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of a teen in Spokane at a time when he should have still been in prison.

The attorney general’s investigation is one of three conducted by the state into the early releases. In February, investigators hired by Gov. Jay Inslee found incompetence and failed leadership but nothing malicious behind the long delays in fixing the computer program.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee, which held hearings during the recent legislative session, is expected to release its separate report later this month or sometime in May.

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