The Senate Law and Justice Committee held an initial hearing Monday on its investigation into the Department of Corrections sentencing calculation error that resulted in the early release of more than 3,000 prisoners.
Four witnesses involved in the DOC investigation testified about their reaction to the error when they first discovered it in 2012. A fix was not completed until 2016.
Among those who testified was Matthew Mirante, Sr., who notified the DOC in 2012 that there were problems with its sentencing calculations.
Mirante said he tracked the man who stabbed his son “from day one to everywhere he went.” He received a letter in the mail notifying him of the offender’s upcoming release.
He said that he calculated the offender’s correct sentence in five minutes and notified the DOC of the error. “I did it all by myself by hand,” he said. “Was about 45 days early. So at that particular time I made a phone call and said, ‘You know you guys need to check.’”
“Bottom line is, it was exact to the day I said. The day they calculated, after they did it by hand, it was right,” he said. “So obviously the computer had made an error.”
Throughout hearing, witnesses said the error traces back to the King case, a 2002 state Supreme Court ruling that adjusted the way inmate sentences are calculated.
Ronda Larsen, the former assistant attorney general who advised the DOC on the error, said the DOC tried to accommodate the King case in a way that would allow them to provide offenders with a better chance at doing re-entry programs. She said “but obviously the algorithm they chose was an incorrect one.” She said that, “It was simply a mathematical error.”
“There was no mistaken interpretation of King, it was a mistaken algorithm,” she said. “We all knew what King required. The question is, is how mathematically do you implement it. And that was where the problem was.”
She told the committee she regrets advising the DOC to not do hand calculations, thinking that a computer fix would be done within months.
Committee chair Sen. Mike Padden and Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, asked Larsen how Mirante could have calculated a sentence by hand in five minutes and come up with the release date the DOC was suppose to have.
Larsen replied by saying there are many ways to get to the result mathematically. “He didn’t have to deal with King and the DOC did. DOC’s job was much more complicated than that,” Larsen said.
Wendy Stigall, a records program administrator for the DOC, also testified Monday. She requested an IT change of the software to correct the sentencing calculation in 2012 after Mirante’s notification.
In her request, she flagged the problem as “ASAP.” She said she was hoping the fix would be made in a few months. By January 2013, Stigall said she was aware that this could impact as many as 3,000 inmates.
“Up until that point, we didn’t think anything was an error,” she said. “We thought the computer was programmed the way that DOC interpreted it to be. They thought that it was right at that point and time.”
Stigall said she also gave a presentation about the error at a record managers meeting of about 40 people in August 2013, expecting that it would be fixed the next month. She said former DOC Secretary Bernie Warner greeted people at the beginning of the meeting, but did not hear the presentation.
Sue Schuler, IT specialist and business analyst for the Department of Corrections, was assigned the request in 2012 and also testified before the committee.
Schuler said that there was no difference in timelines if a request is marked as ASAP. She explained that there is a rating system marked one through four, one having the highest urgency. This particular request was downgraded from a two to a three.
“As I was working the consultation on this, I closed 164 items and that doesn’t even include what went forward for IT fixes and enhancements requests,” she said. “There’s a lot of projects that the department likes to have done.”
Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, said there appears to be a problematic culture within the DOC.
“I really find fault with a situation where there is a vehicle in which to move forward something that needs to be corrected or changed,” she said. “It wasn’t moved forward.”
Documents from the two subpoenas issued by the Senate to the governor’s office and the DOC were also released Monday at a press conference. Included are nearly 300 comments from DOC employees.
Separately, Gov. Jay Inslee is conducting his own investigation directed by two former federal prosecutors. The governor notified the committee that the prosecutors finished their investigation and the report would be made public this week.