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Emails: DOC told it could wait on fix of sentencing glitch

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OLYMPIA — Documents released by the state Department of Corrections show the attorney general’s office advised the agency in 2012 that it wasn’t necessary to hand recalculate sentences for prisoners – even after a software coding error that ultimately led to the erroneous early release of thousands of prisoners was brought to light.

The new revelations come after officials announced last week that as many as 3,200 offenders have being wrongly released early since 2002.

In December 2012, the assistant attorney general assigned to the agency wrote in an email that from a “risk management perspective,” a hand recalculation wasn’t necessary since a software reprogramming would eventually take care of the issue. That fix was never done.

“Although this will result in offenders being released earlier than the law allows for the time being, until OMNI gets fixed, the DOC has been releasing them earlier for a decade, and a few more months is not going to make that much difference in light of this,” Assistant Attorney Ronda Larson wrote in an email dated Dec. 7, 2012.

Furthermore,” she said, “this is something that the DOC has identified internally, rather than something that is being forced upon it by an outside entity such as the court. It is therefore not so urgent as to require the large input of personnel resources to do hand-calculations of hundreds of sentences.”

The email came after the family of a victim expressed concern to the Department of Corrections that an offender was being released early.

The offender, Curtis Robinson, was serving a sentence for assault with a deadly weapon. Due to the computer glitch, which miscalculated the amount of good time he’d earned, Robinson was set to be released more than a month early.

After looking into the case, the DOC identified the problem and reached out to the AG’s office for guidance.

Larson wrote that DOC would have to fix only Robinson’s sentence, as not doing so could open the agency up to a lawsuit since they’d been made aware of the problem.

“If the DOC does not fix Robinson’s sentence, the likelihood that DOC will be sued and lose in a tort lawsuit is unreasonably high, if Robinson were to release and immediately go and kill the victim, for example,” Larson wrote. “In such a scenario, because the DOC knew that Robinson was getting 58% good time illegally, and didn’t fix it, the DOC would lose such a lawsuit and sustain a lot of monetary damages.”

Despite the fact that two state agencies had knowledge of the problem in 2012, a fix was delayed more than a dozen times.

During that period, a prison inmate released early allegedly went on to kill his girlfriend in a DUI crash while he should have been behind bars.

Lindsay Hill, 35, was killed on Nov. 11, 2015, when the car she was riding in crashed into a utility box at up to 70 miles per hour. Police say her boyfriend, Robert Jackson, was driving the vehicle at the time of the crash. He fled the scene, but was later arrested and charged with vehicular homicide.

Due to the computer glitch, Jackson had been released from prison in August 2015 instead of December 2015.

“Nothing I can say will bring back Ms. Hill. I deeply regret that this happened,” said Dan Pacholke, head of the state’s prison system. “On behalf of the Department of Corrections, I apologize.”

So far, more than two dozen offenders who need to serve additional time are back in custody, and the agency continues to review additional releases. Governor Jay Inslee has called for an independent investigation into what happened.