Politics & Government

Kitsap inmate fixes jail's math

PORT ORCHARD - As Kitsap County jail corrections officers prepared to shackle Robert "Doug" Pierce for the bus to the state prison in Shelton, he was handed a flurry of paperwork.

It was December 2009 and Pierce was facing a two-year stint for possession of methamphetamine. He knew that he’d be credited for the 213 days he’d already served in the Kit-sap County jail leading up to his trial and sentencing. He also knew that he would have time taken off his sentence for good behavior. Under Kitsap County’s policy, inmates at the jail can get one-third off their sentence if they behave themselves behind bars.

But when a corrections officer handed Pierce a form that detailed his “good time,” he knew instantly something was amiss.

“This isn’t right,” he told the officer.

Pierce, now 48 and a recovering meth addict with a history of possession charges, knew at the time that he couldn’t ask questions. He had to get on the bus to Shelton.

In time, however, Pierce, who just recently got his GED, uncovered an error in how the county calculates “good time.” It was an error that went undetected by county jail staff, lawyers and the state. His discovery prompted the county to rewrite its policy, altering the sentences of a still countless number of prison inmates from Kitsap serving time around the state.

Jail officials aren’t sure when the error began.

The Department of Corrections leaves it to counties to calculate the “good time” felons earn while sitting in their lockup before going to state prison.

The state DOC is allowed to correct “manifest” errors, such as when an offender gets too much good time. But if the inmate comes into prison with less good time than they’ve earned, it’s not DOC’s job to correct it, said Wendy Stigall, the Department of Corrections’ records manager.

“We didn’t question it, because it’s their rules,” she said. “We don’t try and tell them how to run their jail.”

The state’s 37 county jails are at liberty to award any amount of good time they choose, as long as it doesn’t exceed 33 percent of the sentence. On top of that, not all inmates earn good time.

Pierce did earn it, however, and he was eligible for the 33 percent off Kitsap County gives to those with good behavior.

Pierce received a 24-month sentence, or 730 days. He served 213 days in the county jail.

In calculating his good time, the jail took 213 days, divided it by three and got 71 days. Jail officials added the two numbers together and reported to the Department of Corrections that 284 days of his sentence was complete. He’d serve the remainder of his time in prison.

Seventy-one days is one-third of a 213-day sentence. But because he’d already served 213 days, a new equation comes into play, and jail officials should have divided his sentence in half to determine the total earned release time, which would have added up to 106 days of good time.

Therefore, he should’ve been credited 319 days when he entered the state prison system.

In sum, Pierce spent 35 extra days in prison. While seemingly meager, it costs $100 a day to house an offender in a state prison, and there are 548 inmates from Kitsap County in the prison system, according to DOC.

Pierce didn’t have much time to look into the miscalculation when he first arrived in the prison system. From December 2009 to February 2010, he stayed at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, where inmates have a few hours outside of a cell each day.

Still, Pierce asked a cell-mate about his good time. The man, from Pierce County, had the correct number of days, reinforcing Pierce’s belief that he was right.

He began writing letters to anyone he could think of – his attorney, Kitsap County Superior Court, the attorney general’s office and others.

He was transferred to Coyote Ridge Corrections Center in Connell in February. There, he got a job constructing a new housing unit, got his GED and found God, he said.

He believes it was God who delivered him a typewriter when he was given a cellmate in possession of one. He didn’t know how to type, but he learned as he continued writing letters.

In May, he heard back from Clarke Tibbits, head of Kitsap County Public Defender’s Office. The news was good.

“... There is no other way to describe the situation other than the (jail) is incorrectly calculating good time,” Tib-bits wrote.

The error was acknowledged in meetings between Tibbits and jail administrators. Ned Newlin, corrections chief, decided the policy needed to be rewritten to fix the problem.

“Our intention is to be transparent,” Newlin said. “We want to do it right.”

Newlin points out that offenders whose earned release time has been miscalculated aren’t serving more time than a judge ordered.

“No offender is ever spending more time than they’re sentenced to,” he said.

The staff at the jail is also currently reviewing the past three years of cases in which Kitsap offenders have gone on to serve prison time at a state facility, Newlin said, though he doesn’t know when the miscalculation began. Any current state prison inmate with the same problem as Pierce’s – which would include any Kitsap County jail inmate who qualified for earned release time – will see an adjustment in their good time, he added.

Newlin said the jail doesn’t know yet when the math error began. The jail started giving one-third off sentences for good behavior in October 2007.

Pierce was ultimately credited with his good time and got out in September instead of October. But he did lose out on 10 days off his sentence that DOC gives inmates who have found housing and whose affairs are in order before their release date. The reason: his good time was corrected too late for corrections officials to allow the legally required number of days for community notification of his release.