OLYMPIA – Washington’s prison system would be less likely to have uncorrected problems that lead to inmates being released before they finish their sentences under a bill the Senate passed Monday.
Prompted by one of last year’s most controversial issues, the bill received unanimous support and was sent to the House.
Because mistakes in programming the Department of Corrections computer that calculated when inmates sentences were complete, thousands of prisoners were released early and more than two dozen were accused of committing crimes when they should still have been behind bars.
One of those crimes is the alleged murder of Ceasar Medina, who was killed in a north Spokane tattoo parlor during a robbery on May 26, 2015. Jeremiah Smith, who is charged with the murder, was released early and the correct calculation of his sentence should have kept him in prison until Aug. 10.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the bill’s sponsor, called it the “worst management failure in the history of the state.” The problem went unnoticed for about 10 years, and when brought to the attention of the department in 2012 wasn’t fixed for three years.
Washington faces a $5 million claim from the Medina family, he said, and another claim, with damages not yet specified, from the family of a vehicular homicide victim killed in Bellevue by another inmate who was released early.
The bill would set up an independent ombudsman’s office for the department, reinforce the whistle blower program and prohibit a settlement that bars the whistle blower from returning to work for the state. It also says the department’s primary duty is public safety.
Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, said Democrats have a different perspective on what happened and where responsibility lies, but the bill has important changes they support, including a task force to look at ways to reform and simplify the state’s overly complex sentencing system.
“These reforms will improve the Department of Corrections,” he said.
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