3,200 Prison Inmates Released Early Because of Software Glitch


Computer-determined inmate release in Washington state has come to a screeching halt after the discovery of a computer error that led to the DOC releasing state prisoners prematurely.

Washington State Governor Jay Islee stated in a press conference yesterday that he learned of the “serious error[s] with serious implications” a week ago, the day after newly appointed Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke, and took immediate action to solve the problem by ordering the “DOC to fix this, fix it fast, and fix it right.”

An independent investigation is already in process by former federal prosecutors Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone, with Islee promising “the proper level of accountability depending on the results of [the] investigation.”

To date, it has been determined that the glitch occurred in 2002 after the DOC updated their “good-time” computer coding software in compliance with Washington State Supreme Court decision to reduce inmate sentences by crediting them for “good time” earned while incarcerated.

A timeline of events provided by the DOC claims the department was unaware of the software error until a decade later when a victim’s family alerted officials of their concern that an inmate’s upcoming release date had been miscalculated. An immediate software correction was scheduled and marked as a records “priority” per DOC records-program administrator Wendy Stigall, but was delayed for three years.

Estimations work out to an average of 49 days in early release time per prisoner, with the largest date discrepancy being 600 days. State officials are working to identify and locate the inmates prematurely released, returning five of seven identified so far into custody. Many of the inmates, however, will be free from re-incarceration, benefiting from a Supreme Court ruling in 2004 that gives them “credit for time at liberty”, or day-for-day credit for any time out of legal custody.

The ramifications of the undiscovered-then-delayed correction of the technological error reach beyond the inmates and victims involved. Washington State citizens are likely joining in sentiment with their Governor, who feels “that this problem was allowed to continue for 13 years is deeply disappointing [to me], totally unacceptable and, frankly, maddening.”

The DOC has reported that they expect the software error to be corrected by January 7, 2016.

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