McKenna: I was unaware of email dismissing Washington prisoner recalculation
Dec 31, 2015, 1:50 PM | Updated: 2:08 pm
Former Attorney General Rob McKenna says it wasn’t until last week that he became aware of an email to the state’s Department of Corrections, advising the department to not recalculate sentences for prisoners after a software coding error.
“The first I heard about it was last week when the Governor’s office contacted me to let me know this issue had arisen with the early release,” McKenna told Seattle’s Morning News.
Documents released by the Department of Corrections show the attorney general’s office advised the agency in 2012 that it wasn’t necessary to hand recalculate sentences for prisoners even after a software coding error that ultimately led to the erroneous early release of thousands of prisoners was brought to light.
Emails released Wednesday night in response to a public records request by The Associated Press show Ronda Larson, the assistant attorney general assigned to the agency, wrote in December 2012 that from a “risk management perspective,” a hand recalculation wasn’t necessary because software reprogramming would eventually take care of the issue. That fix was never done.
As far McKenna says he knows, Larson did not notify her supervisors about the advice.
“I checked with some of my former senior staff, they didn’t know about it,” McKenna explained. “Apparently, she made this decision and didn’t consult the people in the office she should have been talking to.”
The Seattle Times reports that Larson told DOC that “It would be reasonable to not manually fix the hundreds of sentences… and instead wait for reprogramming [of software].”
If Larson had consulted with lawyers at the time, McKenna says they would have had a “very different opinion” on the situation. They would have told the DOC to begin hand-counting, he says.
Last week the state announced as many as 3,200 offenders have been wrongly released since 2002. More than two dozen who need to serve additional time are back in custody. One offender who should have still been in custody was charged with vehicular homicide for a fatal crash that occurred in November.
So who is legally liable if offenders who should be in custody cause harm?
McKenna says it could be a mix, but Larson’s advice doesn’t cause the liability. The liability was caused back when the software error was created to begin with and compounded by DOC’s decision to hold off on the software fix and decision to not recalculate release times. The attorney general’s office assumed the problem would be fixed.
The state could be on the hook for millions of dollars in damages if offenders cause harm, McKenna says. A wrongful death case, such as the vehicular homicide that killed Lindsay Hill in November, could run into the millions, he explains.
“Until it’s known how many offenders committed a bad act, it is impossible to know,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.