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Friday, November 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: State’s prison scandal hits home

The Washington Department of Corrections scandal has hit home with the news that a man who allegedly killed a Spokane teenager last year was mistakenly released early from prison.

Ceasar Medina, 17, was shot during an apparent robbery attempt at the former site of Northwest Accessories. He died of his wounds.

Jeremiah A. Smith, 26, has been charged with first-degree murder and is scheduled to stand trial in June. Twelve days before the shooting, on May 26, 2015, he was released from prison. He was supposed to stay locked up until Aug. 10.

The victim’s mother, Veronica Medina-Gonzalez, has filed a $5 million claim against the state.

The mistaken prison releases have been traced to a computer glitch that wasn’t fixed for more than a decade, even though some people were aware of the problem. The mix-up led to about 3,200 inmates being released before serving their full sentences, according a report released by the governor’s office last week.

Investigators found a dysfunctional bureaucracy that didn’t treat the problem with the seriousness it deserved. Gov. Jay Inslee has called the lack of follow-through on a solution “inexplicable.”

The most tragic consequence thus far would be the Spokane homicide. Several other inmates have been charged with crimes that were committed when they should’ve been in prison.

The problem began in 2002, when a computer program was incorrectly rewritten to address a state Supreme Court ruling. But the mistake wasn’t detected until the father of a stabbing victim pointed out that the perpetrator was scheduled to be released 45 days early. (He later said it took him about five minutes to do the math.)

Still, the problem wasn’t corrected for another three years.

Meanwhile, an official in the department that managed information technology and an assistant attorney general told workers they need not calculate release dates manually. In other words, they were content to live with the mistakes until the programming error could be corrected.

Incredibly, said investigator Carl Blackstone, “People did not connect up the early releases with ‘this was endangering the public.’ ”

The assistant attorney general and the DOC official have resigned. Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke, who told the governor he didn’t know about the problem until December, has also resigned.

The problem spanned the terms of two other DOC secretaries.

The governor’s investigators have said they recently received another trove of documents, so the investigation isn’t complete. The state Senate has launched an independent probe that could be useful if it leads to appropriate accountability, or a distraction if it’s being staged for political gain.

Let’s not lose sight of the tragic consequences.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

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