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News / Northwest

Senate panel holds hearing on DOC investigation

By RACHEL LA CORTE, Associated Press
Published: February 22, 2016, 12:00pm

OLYMPIA — A Senate panel moved into the next stage of its inquiry into the erroneous early release of prisoners in the state, releasing thousands of pages of documents and hearing directly from Department of Corrections’ employees Monday about a software coding error that went unnoticed for years.

The hearing came after a news conference where Republican Sens. Mike Padden and Steve O’Ban released documents gained by subpoena as part of the panel’s probe. The documents included emails from the state Department of Corrections related to the error at the agency that led to the early release of up to 3,200 prisoners since 2002 because of miscalculated sentences. At least two deaths have been tied to the early releases.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee heard testimony from four people: two DOC employees, an assistant attorney general who offered legal advice to the agency once it learned of the error, and the father of a victim who notified the agency of the error in December 2012. When the family of Matthew Mirante learned of the imminent release of a prisoner who was serving time for stabbing him, it did its own calculations and found Curtis Robinson was being credited with too much time.

Matthew Mirante Sr. told the committee he got a letter from the Department of Corrections in December 2012 that showed a date of release for Robinson was 45 days earlier than it should have been.

“I wanted him there obviously for every day he was supposed to be there, because it wasn’t long enough for me anyway,” Mirante said. Mirante said after he followed up, he was told he was right and the release was corrected.

The committee then heard from a panel of three women who dealt at one point with the discovery of the error: Wendy Stigall, the records program administrator for DOC, Sue Schuler, an IT specialist for the agency, and Ronda Larson, the assistant attorney general who advised the corrections department on what to do once the mistake was flagged by Mirante.

O’Ban noted Stigall rated the fix request be done “asap” in an email, yet was aware that it wasn’t fixed for the following three years.

“Did you at some point flag this or bring it to the attention of anyone that it wasn’t getting done?” he asked

“We had the IT process so I thought they knew,” she said. “I notified my supervisor to begin with and other staff and then we had the process, and I thought the whole time someone was setting that priority.”

The coding fix was ultimately delayed 16 times, and the governor has said he didn’t learn of the issue until December 2015. The software fix was implemented last month.

After the hearing, O’Ban said it was “unconscionable” there wasn’t a group tasked with prioritizing such issues.

Larson, who was consulted in December 2012 by Stigall, wrote at the time that from a “risk management perspective,” a recalculation by hand wasn’t necessary because a software reprogramming fix would take care of the issue.

Larson told the committee Monday that she regretted that advice, but said she had believed the fix would take “two months or less.”