The state Department of Corrections is conducting a broad review to make sure offenders are serving the right amount of prison and community-supervision time.
DOC Acting Secretary Richard Morgan, in a memo sent Aug. 4 and updated this week, directed corrections staff members to verify sentencing information before anyone is released from prison or community supervision.
“To ensure public safety, I am directing staff to verify supervision end dates,” Morgan wrote. He added that agency staff must check offenders’ records “prior to termination/closure from supervision or release from confinement.”
Officials say the examination is not in response to a particular incident.
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Morgan marked the email “importance high,” and in the memo calls his directive a “time sensitive” request.
Specifically, staff members are checking whether forms used by the courts are clear on whether sentences are consecutive or concurrent, according to DOC spokesman Jeremy Barclay.
The review follows revelations in the past year of two separate sentence-calculation problems. In December, DOC and Gov. Jay Inslee announced that between 2002 and 2015, some offenders convicted of violent crimes had been mistakenly released early — an error that may have freed as many as 3,100 prisoners overall.
In January, Washington’s court system moved to fix language on a sentencing form that improperly shortened the community-supervision and treatment times for dozens of sex offenders.
Barclay said he isn’t aware of new examples of an offender getting out early or being held too long. And the review ordered by Morgan so far hasn’t revealed any new systemwide sentencing problem, Barclay said.
But the problem with the incorrect sex-offender sentencing form led to questions about other forms and whether they accurately state offenders’ sentences, he added.
Nearly 19,000 offenders are in prison or some other type of DOC confinement, according to a 2016 agency fact sheet. DOC also oversees approximately 17,600 offenders on community supervision.
While under supervision, offenders check in with community corrections officers and must meet a variety of conditions, which can include drug tests or programs to help with substance abuse and family reunification.
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said Morgan informed the governor’s office of the review last week. One concern is that courts send sentencing forms to DOC that are “often incomplete, or inaccurate and unclear,” Smith said.
With the review, “they’re trying to reduce the risk of errors,” Smith added.
An investigation ordered by Inslee found that the long-running miscalculation of sentences he announced late last year was known to some state employees in 2012.
A concerned family of a victim alerted DOC that year that an offender was scheduled to be released too early. But a software-programming fix was delayed 16 times, and was not made until this year.
Two deaths have been blamed on inmates who should have been in prison but were released early, officials have said. Two men face charges.
After the investigation commissioned by Inslee, a Democrat, several people resigned or were demoted.
A separate inquiry led, by two GOP state senators, blamed former Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner for failing to fix the problem.
In January, state officials identified a separate issue: incorrect language on a court sentencing form for offenders going through the Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative program.
A review found that mistake had shortened community-supervision times for 73 offenders who were still in the program and led an additional 32 offenders to be supervised for too long, DOC has said.
In that case, it’s unclear whether any offenders actually were released early from supervision or whether the long-running problem was fixed by correcting the dates.