AG’s office admits flawed advice in early prison releases

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SEATTLE — The state Attorney General’s Office said Thursday it erred in 2012 when a former state attorney told the Department of Corrections that a problem with the early release of prisoners didn’t need to be addressed immediately.

A programming error led to the early release of up to 3,200 prisoners over a 13-year period because of miscalculated sentences, and at least two deaths have been tied to the early releases.

The DOC was alerted to the error in December 2012, when a victim’s family member realized a prisoner was being mistakenly released early.

Ronda Larson, an assistant attorney general at the time, advised the DOC that it wasn’t necessary to manually recalculate the sentences of other prisoners. She said waiting for a programming fix for other cases should be enough. An internal report of the incident says that Larson, who resigned in February, believed the coding error would be fixed in two months. It was delayed repeatedly for the next three years, allowing the early release of more prisoners.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a letter released Thursday said the “legal advice failed the people of Washington,” and “contributed to the delay in fixing the problem.”

A software fix to the coding error was implemented in January.

The report features information from a review of records, emails and interviews with 17 current and former staff members at the attorney general’s office as well as two employees of the DOC.

Ferguson’s letter said his office will develop a “best practices” guide for providing legal advice and will ask employees to take formal training from the office on client advice.

Ferguson also said Larson’s 2012 advice was “isolated” and that no senior leadership — including then Attorney General Rob McKenna — was aware of the DOC issue.

Gov. Jay Inslee in February concluded a two-month investigation into the early releases that found a series of missteps with the DOC as well as the lack of prioritization by several employees were to blame for the agency’s failure to quickly fix the problem.

A Senate panel has also held public hearings as part of its own examination of the error.