Hearing will air concerns about Department of Corrections, early release of prisoners

A hearing on the opening day of the 2016 legislative session will put the spotlight on a management failure at the state Department of Corrections that caused thousands of prisoners to be released ahead of schedule.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing will begin at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 11 in Senate Hearing Room 4, just after opening ceremonies on the Senate floor.

At a news conference Dec. 22, Gov. Jay Inslee revealed some 3,200 prisoners had been released prematurely, starting in 2002. At least two Washington residents are dead as a result of actions by former inmates who were released early. Although the department learned in 2012 of the computer-coding problem responsible for the error, a fix was repeatedly delayed and prisoners continued to be released before their time.

“This is one of the most serious failings we have seen in our corrections systems in recent years, and it raises questions about the agency itself,” said Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, chairman of the Law and Justice Committee. “Why didn’t the Department of Corrections think this was a problem? We’ll be interested in hearing the department’s explanation, because this is clearly going to be a major concern during this year’s legislative session.”

Because the problem was revealed just before Christmas, the hearing will offer the first opportunity for members to pose questions of the Department of Corrections. Dan Pacholke, secretary of the department, is scheduled to testify.