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Friday, April 3, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Senators grill state prisons chief over early releases

OLYMPIA – The Department of Corrections does not have an answer for why a computer error that allowed 3,200 inmates to be released early took years to fix after it was first identified, the head of the department told a Senate panel Monday.

Republican members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee grilled Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke, asking who would be held responsible and whether the state could be liable for crimes committed by inmates who should have still been in prison but were released early.

“I don’t know anybody who’s not concerned about this,” said Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “This is a disturbing thing.”

Pacholke told panel members calculating the early release of inmates for good behavior is complicated by laws that add extra time for things like committing a felony with a firearm, and by a 2002 state Supreme Court ruling that orders the state to give them credit for good-behavior time earned in county jails before their sentencing. The order in which the various credits are applied can lead to different release dates, and a computer program designed for that 2002 order miscalculated releases for inmates with those enhanced sentences.

Padden asked if the state could be sued for the crimes believed committed by inmates released early, including two that resulted in deaths – a homicide in Spokane and a motor vehicle homicide in King County. They wouldn’t have occurred if the people accused of the crimes were still serving their sentences as properly calculated.

“There’s certainly a potential for court cases to come out of any of these cases,” Pacholke agreed. He said he couldn’t estimate what it would be but said “I’m sure there will be some costs.”

Two former federal prosecutors are conducting an investigation for the governor’s office on how the problem developed and how the department failed to make the changes for three years after a family pointed out that an inmate who had victimized them was being released too early. The department delayed the computer update 16 times, even though it was initially requested to be done as soon as possible.

When that investigation is complete, Pacholke said, he would be “holding people accountable.”

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