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DOC Secretary steps down amid early inmate release probe, hopes to satisfy political ‘need for blood’

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OLYMPIA, Wash — Washington Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke submitted his resignation to Gov. Jay Inslee on Saturday morning, as an investigation continues into a computer glitch that allowed thousands of prisoners to be released early over the last 13 years.

Secretary Pacholke was appointed in October 2015.

The glitch was discovered in 2012, but a fix for it was delayed 16 times. The DOC said the problem is now repaired.

Some of the inmates released committed violent crimes while they should have still been incarcerated.

The Governor’s Office was alerted to the problem on Dec. 22, 2015.

Gov. Inslee hired two former federal prosecutors to look into the scandal, but he has sparred with Republican legislators who argue the investigation cannot be independent since the DOC is overseen by Inslee’s office.

In January, a GOP-led committee successfully subpoenaed all documents related to the erroneous release, including correspondence from the Governor directly.

Republican leaders said they intend to determine if the governor knew about the problem before Dec. 22.

Secretary Pacholke’s resignation comes one day after Senate Republicans successfully ousted Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, appointed by Inslee in 2013.

In a statement Saturday morning, Gov. Inslee hinted at a connection, saying Pacholke hoped his resignation would end the “political blood thirst” of Senate Republicans.

“I doubt it will accomplish that, and I’m sorry to see a dedicated public servant end his tenure this way,” said Inslee.

Secretary Pacholke, who has called the early prisoner release an “unforgivable error,” echoed that sentiment in his resignation letter, calling the incident a tragic system failure.

But he cautioned against politically-motivated finger-pointing.

“What legislators who point to error as an indictment of leadership fail to recognize is the magnitude of things that could go wrong in any agency on any day,” said Pacholke.

“The relevant test of leadership is how it mobilizes in response to error. ”

Read Secretary Pacholke’s complete resignation letter below:

Dear Governor Inslee,

The time has come for me to submit to you my resignation. It was the highpoint of my career to be asked to lead this agency. I thank you for trusting me with that responsibility. I have served this agency and this state for 33 years. I am proud to have worked for and help build what I believe to be the best correctional system in the nation.

That said, no system is ever perfect. Especially in complex organizations, there are just too many variables. What legislators who point to error as an indictment of leadership fail to recognize is the magnitude of things that could go wrong in any agency on any day. Errors will occur. The relevant test of leadership is how it mobilizes in response to error. In 2012, DOC leadership failed in its response to a sentencing calculation error. As I have before, I apologize on behalf of the agency for the tragic consequences of this error.

What current leadership discovered last December was a system failure. A tragic system failure. Understanding the system failure that occurred will take an earnest self-examination. I hope that in my short tenure as Secretary I have better aligned our administrative and headquarters culture to that which exists in field operations, a culture which recognizes and responds to disruptors, both small and large. It is a culture that strives to constantly improve, that recognizes that failures will occur but is prepared to act swiftly and decisively to respond and adjust.

It is my hope that with this resignation, the politicians who would use this tragic event for their political purposes will have satisfied their need for blood. The shaming and blaming needs to end. It exposes ignorance of the complexity of the work of state government and it is a grave injustice to the 8,200 staff who work for this agency.

What I am certain of, is that this agency has a strong foundation. The damage that has been done to the department by this error, though it will take time, will make it better if it is allowed to address this as a system failure and fix the issues this crisis has exposed.

It has been an honor to serve this agency and this state for more than three decades.

Dan Pacholke, Secretary Washington State Department of Corrections