Politics & Government

Fix to stop early prison releases delayed 16 times

Daniel Dean Morris II
Daniel Dean Morris II Department of Corrections photo

The software fix that would have ended the mistaken early release of inmates from state prisons was delayed 16 times since 2012, Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke said Tuesday.

Pacholke said a variety of factors contributed: Delays occurred while the software remedy was being devised and supposedly launched, and the task was not correctly prioritized.

During a telephone news conference with reporters, the secretary said he has seen some documentation of the delays, but would not provide details, citing the independent investigation being undertaken by former federal prosecutors.

“It is my preference that the review is conducted independently,” Pacholke said.

Department of Corrections (DOC) officials also said Tuesday that 24 offenders released by mistake had been returned to state custody and up to 44 others are under review for possible return.

Pacholke and Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week that an error in calculating prison sentences resulted in the early release of thousands of inmates since 2002. Although corrections-department staff identified the problem in 2012, the scheduled software fix was never made. Pacholke and Inslee said they learned of the problem a week earlier.

DOC officials announced Monday that one offender who was released early has been charged with vehicular homicide. Robert T. Jackson last month crashed his car with Lindsay Hill, a 35-year-old mother of two, inside. Hill was thrown from the car outside her Bellevue apartment complex, and suffered a catastrophic head injury.

A friend of Hill’s told police the victim had been dating Jackson, and the relationship was a violent one, according to court documents.

About a half-hour before the crash, a woman in South Seattle flagged down a police officer to report that she had seen a man in a black Lexus assaulting a woman in the car, according to the certification of probable cause that lays out the police case against Jackson.

Not all inmates released early will go back to prison.

Some offenders who still have time to serve and meet certain criteria, such as being under community supervision during their release, may not have go back. Instead, they might receive community service or be placed on furlough — a specially granted leave of absence — to complete their sentences, officials said Tuesday.

But others, including those who weren’t placed under any probationary supervision at the time of their release, are being returned to prison or jail to serve out their time.

Corrections officials also announced Monday they were still searching for another offender who may have committed a crime since being released — this one from Pierce County.

Daniel Dean Morris II was arrested Oct. 6 and charged with attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle. He pleaded guilty and spent about two months in the Pierce County jail before being released.

On Tuesday state officials were trying to find Morris, 32, to impose the rest of his older sentence that stemmed from a May 2011 shooting. Morris had pleaded guilty to an assault charge involving a gun and to illegal possession of the gun.

Officials so far have reviewed case files of released offenders going back to January 2015. The review will continue for all released offenders affected by the error going back to 2002, officials said.

The state gives day-for-day credit, in most cases, to a prisoner released early who hasn’t been found to break any laws since being freed. So while up to 3,200 prisoners have been released early since 2002, the vast majority freed by mistake likely won’t be returned to state custody.

Early estimates by DOC indicate that prisons released offenders an average of 55 days before they were supposed to be freed. Those released had received sentences that included extra time, known as “enhancements,” for crimes committed under certain circumstances, such as with a gun or other deadly weapon. The calculation problem, officials have said, mistakenly gave inmates credit for “good time” on the enhancement portion of their sentences.

Pacholke on Tuesday would not say whether his predecessor, former Washington corrections chief Bernie Warner, knew of the software problem before he left the agency for a job with a private corrections firm in Utah.

Warner, who headed the department from July 2011 to October of this year, declined in an email to The Seattle Times last week to answer questions about the early-release issue but pledged to cooperate in the independent investigation.

The investigation has begun and could take a couple months, according to Nicholas Brown, general counsel for Gov. Jay Inslee.

Staff writer Jordan Schrader contributed to this report.