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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington Prison Chief Calls Early Release 'Largest Single Error' In Agency History

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Washington Department of Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke testifies before the Senate Law and Justice Committee about the accidental release of 3,200 inmates because of a computer coding error.

Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke faced questions from state lawmakers Monday as the 2016 legislative session convened. The head of Washington’s prison system called the accidental early release of more than 3,000 inmates the “largest single error” in his agency’s history.

Pacholke apologized and acknowledged the frustration and anger the early release mistake has caused.

“It’s probably the largest single error I’ve ever heard of agency history in the sense of its impacts to public safety,” he said.

At least two people were allegedly killed by former inmates who should have still been locked up. The agency has blamed a computer coding error that went unfixed even after it was identified in 2012.

Republican state Senator Steve O’Ban pressed Pacholke on whether this situation reveals a deeper agency dysfunction.

“You don’t think that there is any problem with the culture or environment at DOC that would permit this sort of thing to take place?” O’Ban asked.

Pacholke answered, “I believe there was an error made here and we should go through the investigative process and hold people accountable. I don’t believe you can cast it as a wide brush against the entire agency.”

Pacholke said the computer coding fix will be in place this week. A directive issued by Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday gave state agency heads until the end of the month to identify and prioritize IT issues in an effort to avoid future mistakes.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."