The Washington state Department of Corrections is once again under fire for errors that led to two inmates being released from prison too early.
This time the lapse did not cause great harm as opposed to 2015, when it was learned that the DOC miscalculated sentences over several years, resulting in more than 3,000 inmates being released too soon — including two of who killed people when they should still have been in prison.
Nevertheless, this latest mess, which was first reported by The Seattle Times last month, is disturbing. It shows the monitoring of inmates and their status still has holes. Monitoring 38,000 criminals in prison and community is without a doubt a huge and challenging job, but it is central to the mission of the DOC.
In 2015, Gov. Jay Inslee called the lapse that allowed the early releases “totally unacceptable.” Action was taken, including an investigation by the Legislature.
This time around, as before, a software problem seems to have been at the root of the errors that caused at least a dozen prison inmates to be released too early or held too long, The Seattle Times reported.
To be fair, tracking inmates and changes in sentencing is complex.
DOC Secretary Stephen Sinclair, a former superintendent of the Washington State Penitentiary, certainly takes this extremely seriously. Sinclair said the DOC has been constantly examining sentences to ensure that any new calculation problems are caught.
The current problems involve those in the Drug Offender Sentencing Alternative program who served their prison terms and were released into community supervision but violated the terms of their conditional release, according to DOC.
Two of the offenders with miscalculated sentences were released early from prison, while 10 others were held beyond their correct term.
State Rep. Roger Goodman, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, was briefed by Sinclair on the problems .
“This is absolutely a function of how maddeningly complex our sentencing system is,” said Goodman, a Kirland Democrat. “The impression I got from them is they are working as hard as they can to figure this out. They are just being as vigilant as they possibly can be, in view of what happened last time.”
It is possible there were other miscalculations, which is why DOC officials said that 3,512 cases are being checked, though that number might include some duplicates. Of those, 2,053 offenders are now in prison, while the remaining 1,459 are on community supervision.
Moving forward, even more must be done to ensure the computer software and tracking system is as secure as the maximum security units at the Washington State Penitentiary.