OLYMPIA – A 28-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections will take over the agency, which last year came under fire for releasing some inmates before their sentence had been fully served.
Stephen Sinclair, who started as a corrections officer, rose through the ranks to become superintendent of the state penitentiary and most recently the assistant secretary of the department’s prisons division, is the new department secretary, Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday.
The state also interviewed candidates from outside the state, Inslee said, but ultimately selected Sinclair, in part because of his work setting up a program to cut recidivism by giving inmates job skills at the Sustainable Practices Lab. The work those inmates do also helps reduce costs of the prison and gives them a chance to give back to the community.
“We found the right person for the job,” Inslee said.
Sinclair becomes the fifth person to be at the helm of the Corrections Department, one of the state’s larger agencies, during Inslee’s stay in the governor’s office. The current acting secretary, Jody Becker, will stay on as deputy secretary.
Last year, the department came under fire from Senate Republicans after the agency revealed that the release dates for some inmates with complicated sentences had been miscalculated for nearly 13 years, allowing about 3,000 to be released before they had served all their time. More than two dozen committed crimes when they should have been still in prison, including one former inmate who is charged with the murder of 17-year-old Ceasar Medina during a robbery at a north Spokane tattoo parlor.
The Senate Law and Justice Committee issued subpoenas and conducted an extensive investigation into the causes of the early releases, which involved incorrect information in the program that calculated release dates and long delays by the department’s information technology office once a citizen called the problem to the attention of department staff. Former Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner, who by that time had left the agency, came under heavy criticism for poor management practices and a lack of interest in the IT office. The agency’s oversight by the governor’s office was questioned.
In a separate investigation by the governor’s office, independent attorneys said the early release problems were a result of incompetence and management failures, but found nothing malicious.
Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he has interviewed Sinclair and thinks he’s a good choice for tackling problems in the department, which he contends include low morale.
“I’m looking forward to working with him,” said Padden, whose committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Sinclair before the appointment comes to the full Senate for confirmation. “They need some leadership there.”
Sinclair has a master’s degree in public administration and was the 2009 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Leadership in Management.
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