Heads will roll over prison scandal — if there are any left

A report due out as early as Thursday could reveal why the state continued to free inmates early, by mistake, even after workers in the Department of Corrections learned it was happening in late 2012.

Two retired federal prosecutors investigated the mistaken release of 3,700 inmates dating back to 2002 to ascertain who knew what, when they knew and why a fix was delayed 16 times.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who ordered the investigation, has vowed to hold those responsible for their “mind boggling” failure to not immediately remedy the problem.

“Because of the severity of this failure we are going to find out every document and every person associated with this failure,” he said in early January. “There will be accountability for this failure.”

That’s shorthand for “heads are going to roll.”

But are there any heads left to roll — or ones high enough on the agency’s internal totem of power to satisfy the public and assuage the governor’s political critics?

Consider some of those who are no longer around for Inslee to resign, reassign, retire or replace:

  • Bernie Warner, corrections secretary in 2012, is gone. So too is his chief of staff, Peter Dawson. Warner left last fall. He was at the helm when a crime victim’s family told employees that the state was about to let a convicted criminal out of prison too soon. That spurred discovery that the state had been miscalculating sentences for years. It’s unclear if Warner ever became aware of the problem before he left.
  • Dan Pacholke, whom Inslee chose to succeed Warner, is leaving. He announced his resignation Feb. 6, saying he hoped his departure would satisfy those thirsting for someone’s blood as a result of the mistake.
  • Denise Doty, a former assistant secretary under Warner, is gone. She is said to be the highest-ranking DOC exec aware of the problem. In 2012, she oversaw the Administrative Services Division that included records and information technology. She went to another agency in 2014 and left state government this month.
  • Brian Tinney, who took Doty’s spot for a while, now works at another state agency.
  • Ronda Larson, an assistant attorney general, is resigning effective March 1. In 2012, after discovery of the problem, she advised corrections officials that they didn’t need to manually recalculate prisoners’ sentences. She told a Senate panel this week that she didn’t realize the magnitude of the error and regrets that advice.
  • And then there’s the information technology division where a fix was delayed 16 times. It’s had six acting or permanent chief information officers since 2011. Lee Baublitz, David Switzer, Doug Hoffer, Jibu Jacob and Peter Jekel each held the reins for a period of that time. All are gone from the Department of Corrections.
  • Ira Feuer is the current chief information officer. Hired in August 2015, Feuer got the coding error fixed last month.

Upon further review, when Inslee sets out for accountability of those responsible, he may wind up deeper in the department’s organizational chart than anticipated.

Given all that’s occurred, that may boggle a few minds.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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