Had the Washington Department of Corrections been doing its job, the paths of Jeremiah A. Smith and Caesar Medina might never have crossed. But they did. Now, Smith is in the Spokane County Jail awaiting trial on a first-degree murder charge, and Medina is buried in a Moses Lake cemetery.
Medina’s death in May is the most flagrant crime allegedly committed by one of the 3,200 criminals released early because DOC was unaware – for years – that the software used to calculate prisoner release dates improperly credited “good time” against sentences that included enhancements for aggravating circumstances, such as the use of a gun.
It was not until 2012 that the family of one victim ran its own calculation after receiving notice of the perpetrator’s impending release, and alerted DOC, which realized there had been more errors – a lot more.
But, not to worry. Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson told the department to go ahead with a manual sentencing recalculation for that case, and let the others ride until the Offender Management Network Information (OMHI) was upgraded to eliminate the programming error.
The reprogramming never occurred, even though Wendy Stigall, the statewide correctional records program director, advised the DOC information technology arm in 2012 the problem needed to be fixed “ASAP” because: “All current ERD’s (enhanced release date) when there is a mandatory/enhancement are in error.”
Nothing happened – 16 times. OMHI reprogramming to correct for enhanced circumstances remained undone, and might be undone today but for a November meeting between Stigall and Ira Feuer, the DOC’s new information services director. Finally, there will be a fix, although it has been delayed into next week.
Meanwhile, no inmates will be checking out until their release dates are recalculated. Gov. Jay Inslee has commissioned an outside study of the whole mess, and Attorney General Bob Ferguson has also authorized an internal review of what he called “deeply flawed” advice.
The Legislature also plans hearings.
Ominously, Larson’s flawed memo included this warning: “If the DOC does not fix (Curtis) Robinson’s sentence, the likelihood that DOC will be sued and lose in a tort lawsuit is unreasonably high, if Robinson were to release and immediately go and kill the victim, for example. In such a scenario, because the DOC knew that Robinson was getting 58 percent good time illegally, and didn’t fix it, the DOC would lose such a lawsuit and sustain a lot of monetary damages.”
Robinson had stabbed a 16-year-old boy multiple times in 2011. His victim survived, but Medina did not. Nor did Lindsey Hall, who died in November when prematurely released driver Robert Jackson allegedly drove a Lexus into a utility box, and fled.
Two are dead. The state has failed in its most fundamental task: protecting the public’s safety.
This not a matter of software, or reprogramming. People did not care enough. They must be identified and held accountable.
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