The story about the state Department of Corrections’ computer error that let up to 3,200 offenders out of prison early just keeps getting worse.
One offender who should have been in custody last fall is now charged with vehicular homicide for the November death of his girlfriend in a car wreck in Bellevue. Another faces a first-degree murder charge in Spokane.
It is bad enough that the fix to the software was delayed 16 times. It is even worse that someone died because of the state’s failure to get its computer coding repaired.
This problem persisted for 13 years under three governors, resulting in early releases averaging about 50 days. The problem started with Democratic governor Gary Locke and continued through the Democratic administrations of Chris Gregoire and Jay Inslee.
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The DOC had reprogrammed its software in 2002 after a Supreme Court ruling said the state needed to grant adequate “good time” credit to offenders for time served in county jails, not just state prisons.
But the revised coding incorrectly gave good time credit for sentencing enhancements — for such things as using a firearm in a crime — which do not qualify for reductions. That led to early releases from custody.
DOC still is going back through its records and recalculating the correct release dates for offenders who were released early. That search is back to January, and DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke told reporters there are likely to be more crimes linked to the released offenders.
The failure by agencies to correct the problem includes the Attorney General’s Office under Republican Rob McKenna. It came to light last week that an assistant attorney general under McKenna advised the DOC in 2012 that it did not need to manually tabulate the proper release dates for offenders because a software upgrade would eventually take care of the issue.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the advice was “deeply flawed.” That’s an understatement.
At Inslee’s request, an investigation led by two retired federal prosecutors is underway into why the problem was allowed to go unfixed. We give Inslee credit for bringing in independent scrutiny.
This is the kind of recurrent mistake that undermines public trust in government, but we are at least encouraged by the steps taken by the current governor and Department of Corrections Director Dan Pacholke to come clean and sincerely apologize.
Senate Republicans have indicated they will hold hearings into what happened, and that is fair. But an impartial fact-finding effort is likely to get better answers than a sharply partisan approach.
The quest for electoral advantage can come later — during summer campaigns.