A review of a Washington sex-offender program earlier this year found five offenders who were released early from community supervision — including three who were supposed to be supervised for life.
The state Department of Corrections review was intended to determine the impact of how an incorrect court form skewed the community supervision sentences of certain sex offenders.
But DOC’s review of offenders in the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative program also discovered other, unrelated errors that led to incorrect community supervision sentences.
SSOSA is a program designed to reduce the chance of repeat offenses by certain first-time felony sex offenders who are considered a low risk to the community.
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Instead of serving time in state prison, SSOSA offenders get a suspended sentence along with a mix of county jail time, treatment and community supervision. Among other things, supervision can include visits with treatment specialists, check-ins with DOC officers, electronic monitoring, risk assessments and drug tests.
The early release revelations come after state officials initially said they didn’t know whether any offenders had been let off supervision early, or whether the mistakes had been caught.
Emails obtained by The Seattle Times through a public records request show that some corrections officials, however, knew of at least three offenders who were released early.
In March, DOC Assistant Secretary Anmarie Aylward sent an email to corrections staffers with the names of three offenders discovered in the review sparked by the incorrect judgment and sentencing court form.
Aylward asked DOC staff to “review the cases [and] talk with Prosecutors and the courts to identify the issue and that we need to regain supervision.”
“Let me know how I can help,” she added.
Aylward later sent follow-up emails to corrections staffers to make sure the offenders were being brought back onto supervision.
Jeremy Barclay, spokesman for DOC, later confirmed that the review had found a total of five offenders who had been released early off supervision.
In January, court officials moved to fix incorrect language on a form that had for years skewed sentences in the SSOSA program. Courts use judgment and sentencing forms to lay out the specific details for punishment and treatment that offenders are to receive.
The state Administrative Office of the Courts originally learned of concerns about the incorrect form in 2010. But the committee responsible for such forms didn’t act on those concerns at the time.
All five offenders were released early off supervision in 2015, according to Barclay: two in April, and one each in May, June and December.
Three of the offenders were supposed to be under supervision for life, according to Barclay. The fourth offender was released 22 months early and the fifth released about 47 months early, Barclay said.
One of the offenders requiring lifetime supervision has been brought back onto the program, according to Barclay. DOC has notified Benton, Spokane and Thurston counties about the others, he said.
It’s unclear whether the five were released from supervision early because of the incorrect court forms or because of different errors, Barclay said.
As court officials in January moved to fix the sentencing form, DOC undertook a review of offenders who were in the SSOSA program at the time. The agency later expanded the review to also look at offenders who had been in the program in 2015.
Updated numbers from the review show that 71 SSOSA offenders had community supervision sentences that were improperly shortened, according to Barclay. Those still in the program had their sentence dates fixed, so they weren’t released in error.
Another 35 had been held on community supervision for too long and had to be released, the review found.
Not every county used the incorrect court SSOSA form. King County did not, but others, such as Snohomish and Thurston counties, did.
The sex-offender sentencing errors are unrelated to the long-running miscalculations that led to the early release of prisoners between 2002 and 2015.
But the problems have led DOC to undertake a broad review to make sure offenders are serving the right amount of prison and community-supervision time.