The Washington Department of Corrections learned in 2012 that the software it was using to calculate prisoners' time off for good behavior was letting some prisoners out too soon. A possible fix to that computer error was delayed 16 separate times, Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke said Tuesday.
It took three years for the corrections department to stop releasing prisoners too soon.
Pacholke told reporters that a variety of delays kept the problematic computer code — in use since 2002 — from being replaced.
"By December of 2012 we were in the position where a request to do the IT fix was submitted," Pacholke said. "From that point, it was delays in the actual fix being prioritized for construction, being built and being launched."
Pacholke declined to give more detail. He said he preferred to let the investigators appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee come up with answers independently. Their investigation — focusing on why the mistake occurred and why it was allowed to continue — is expected to take two months, according to Nick Brown, Inslee's general counsel.
Since 2002, as many as 3,200 prisoners have gotten out too soon. Corrections officials said Tuesday they don't know how many prisoners were released during the past three years, when the department already knew it had a problem but failed to address it.
About 370 prisoners got out too soon this year alone.
In the past week, police have rearrested 24 people who were released too early. Corrections officials said they are looking into 44 other cases of people who might face arrest.
Most of the mistakenly released inmates won't be arrested: Under a state Supreme Court ruling, they are credited a day off their sentences for each day they spend on the outside without getting in trouble.
So far, officials say they are aware of just two ex-prisoners committing crimes when they should have been behind bars.
Pacholke said the Corrections Department is working with Delaware-based Sierra-Cedar, the same software company whose custom-made software contained the coding error, to fix the calculations for prisoners who have earned "good time" off their prison sentences. Until the updated software is in place, the department is hand-calculating sentence reductions for any prisoners about to be released.
"I believe the software company built exactly what we asked them to build," Pacholke said.