Corrections secretary resigns amid early release controversy

The Department of Corrections and governor's office disclosed in December that a software coding error led to the early release of up to 3,200 prisoners since 2002 because of miscalculated sentences

By Phuong Le, Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington state Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke resigned on Saturday amid a controversy over the early release of prisoners, telling a Republican senator he hoped his departure would satisfy the "need for blood."

The Department of Corrections and governor's office disclosed in December that a software coding error 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.

Pacholke's resignation comes a day after the state Senate ousted Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. That rare move Friday was taken by the Senate as majority Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted to not confirm her gubernatorial appointment. Some Democrats argued the act was a political ploy.

"I notify you now of my resignation. I hope it helps meet your need for blood," Pacholke wrote Saturday in an email to Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican from Spokane Valley who is chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. "I hope it gives you fodder for the press and fulfills your political needs so you can let this agency, our agency, heal."

Pacholke's departure comes amid two ongoing investigations into what led to the software error and early releases.

Last month, the Senate Law and Justice Committee issued legislative subpoenas seeking emails, reports or data compilations by the Department of Corrections and the governor's office related to the early releases. The committee also hired its own investigator.

The separate probe will run concurrent to one already being conducted by two investigators hired by Inslee.

"Pacholke submitted his resignation this morning, saying he hoped that his move would end the political blood thirst of Senate Republicans," Inslee said in a statement Saturday. "I doubt it will accomplish that, and I'm sorry to see a dedicated public servant end his tenure this way."

Inslee said Pacholke was working hard to get the agency through difficult times.

In his resignation letter to Inslee, Pacholke apologized for "the tragic consequences" as a result of the sentencing calculation errors.

The agency was first alerted to the error — which started in 2002 — 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.

However, even though the agency consulted with attorneys regarding the error the same month and scheduled a fix for the program, it was repeatedly delayed and ultimately, never done. Pacholke has said he didn't learn of the error until the middle of December, and the governor says he didn't learn of the issue until that same time, when corrections' officials notified his staff.

One inmate, Jeremiah Smith, mistakenly released from prison three months early in May has been charged with killing a teenager when he should have been locked up. Two other men have been charged with crimes that occurred when they should have been behind bars. Robert Jackson was charged with vehicular homicide in the death of his girlfriend in a car crash, while Daniel Morris was charged with attempting to elude authorities.

A software fix to the coding error, publicly disclosed by Inslee on Dec. 22, was implemented last month.

"What current leadership discovered last December was a system failure. A tragic system failure. Understanding the system failure that occurred will take an earnest self-examination," wrote Pacholke.

Pacholke worked with the agency for 33 years. Inslee appointed him in October to head the department that oversees about 18,500 incarcerated offenders with 8,200 employees and a $580 million annual budget. Pacholke previously served as deputy secretary of the agency.

He has been credited with innovative programs to help offenders rehabilitate.

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