A records manager and a technology specialist flagged an error in calculating inmate release dates as a priority to fix, but the error persisted as thousands of inmates were released early.
The Department of Corrections workers testified under oath Monday in front of a state Senate committee investigating the error.
Matthew Mirante, Sr., a Boeing truck driver from Kent, told senators he did a simple five-minute calculation in December 2012 to figure out that his son’s attacker, Curtis Robinson, was due to be released on the wrong date. But translating that into a computer algorithm for calculating release dates proved much more difficult and would take until last month.
Sen. Steve O’Ban said Corrections failed to prioritize technology projects properly, which he called a “basic breakdown at the management level.”
“I think it’s unconscionable that there was not a panel or group that was constituted to triage these things,” O’Ban, R-Tacoma, told reporters.
The agency recently created a group to do prioritization, known as the “tiger team,” information-technology specialist Sue Schuler told lawmakers.
That happened under a new Corrections chief information officer and a new top boss, Secretary Dan Pacholke, who announced plans to step down in the wake of lawmakers’ investigation of the sentencing error. Two ex-inmates were charged with homicides committed while they should have been in prison.
Pacholke found upon taking over that there was less “rigor” in the part of the agency that handles technology than in the part he had led that runs prisons and other operations, spokesman Jeremy Barclay said. Correcting that problem is a work in progress, Barclay said.
Sen. Jamie Pedersen said the jury is still out on whether there was a failure to prioritize.
“I don’t think we’ve heard yet from the people who would have the answer to that question,” Pedersen, D-Seattle, said.
Schuler and records administrator Wendy Stigall testified voluntarily Monday before the Senate Law and Justice Committee about their efforts starting in December 2012 to solve the programming error that happened during the 2002 implementation of a court decision.
Stigall put in the request Dec. 27, 2012, and called for it to be done “ASAP” — as soon as possible.
“It was important. It was releases,” Stigall said.
Schuler said she too saw the project as important, though she didn’t see a list Stigall prepared showing it could affect thousands of inmates. Schuler believed hundreds of releases could be affected.
“Any time that you’re going to impact 100 offenders, it is kind of something we’d like to see done as quickly as possible,” Schuler said.
Schuler assigned the project a level 2 severity that she said was the second-highest priority level possible, next to fixing a system shutdown. Records show level 2 indicates “serious impact.”
At some point later, the project was downgraded to a level 3 severity, “moderate impact.” Schuler said she received a directive that downgraded a whole category of projects including that one, but she didn’t know why.
According to definitions provided by Corrections, “Severity 2: Significant business impact — indicates the program is usable but is severely limited. Work around is not user friendly. Severity 3: Some business impact — indicates the program is usable with less significant features (not critical to operations) unavailable. A work around exists.”
The project did receive “must-fix” status after it was delayed from one software maintenance update to the next, Schuler said. Still, it didn’t happen.
Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson, who is stepping down next week, told senators she regrets her legal advice in 2012 that it wasn’t necessary to check every release date by hand while awaiting a programming solution. She said she didn’t realize how many releases were affected and how long it would take to fix.
Senators released thousands of pages of records Monday that Corrections had turned over in response to a subpoena. A lawyer is investigating on behalf of the Senate committee, which Democrats say risks duplicating a probe by investigators appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Inslee said Monday that investigation is finished and he would make the results public this week after deciding on next steps, including personnel actions.