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Computer Glitch Allows 3,000 Inmates Early Release In Washington State

Inmates walk past correctional officers at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash., in 2011. Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that more than 3,000 prisoners in Washington have been mistakenly released early since 2002 because of an error by the state's Department of Corrections. Elaine Thompson/AP hide caption

toggle caption Elaine Thompson/AP

Inmates walk past correctional officers at the Washington Corrections Center in Shelton, Wash., in 2011. Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday that more than 3,000 prisoners in Washington have been mistakenly released early since 2002 because of an error by the state's Department of Corrections.

Elaine Thompson/AP

Since 2002, the Washington state Department of Corrections has given more than 3,000 prisoners early release due to a computer problem. The number of inmates freed could go as high as 3,200.

"I've ordered immediate action to fix 13-year-old sentencing errors discovered at state prisons," Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted on Tuesday.

The issue has to do with how good-behavior time was credited to an inmate's sentence.

The Associated Press reports that:

"Authorities say a July 2002 state Supreme Court ruling required the Corrections Department to apply good-behavior credits earned in county jail to state prison sentences. However, the programming fix ended up giving prisoners with sentencing enhancements too much so-called good time credit."

"Sentencing enhancements include additional time given for certain crimes, like those using firearms or those committed near schools. Under state law, prisoners who get extra time for sentencing enhancements cannot have that time reduced for good behavior."

Inslee, speaking at a news conference, described the issue as "maddening" and added that to allow the problem to continue for 13 years is "deeply disappointing.

The Seattle Times reports: "Inslee said his office learned of the problem, which a Department of Corrections (DOC) analysis said affected about 3 percent of all releases, on Dec. 16. Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke, who took over the department in October, said he learned of the early releases the previous day."

The AP adds:

"The Department of Corrections was first alerted to the error in December 2012, when a victim's family learned of a prisoner's imminent release. The family did its own calculations and found he was being credited with too much time.

"A timeline provided by the governor's office shows the agency consulted with attorneys regarding the error the same month and scheduled a fix for the program. However, the coding fix was repeatedly delayed, and the governor says he didn't learn of the issue until last week, when corrections' officials notified his staff."

Corrections officials don't have a complete list of those prisoners who were let out early and can't say whether any of them committed crimes after they were freed.

Some of the prisoners will have to resume serving their sentences.

Inslee says that until the problem is remedied, early release calculations will have to be done by hand.

The governor also ordered an independent investigation to examine why the coding fix. The state Legislature will also hold hearings.

Editor's Note: This post previously contained material from The Associated Press and The Seattle Times without proper attribution. This is not in line with NPR's ethics policy, which states that "no material from another source should ever be included verbatim, or substantially so, without attribution."

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