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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."

State Lawyer Regrets Legal Advice Over Early Release Of Washington Inmates

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network
Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson, foreground, told the Senate Law and Justice Committee she regrets advice she gave the Department of Corrections in 2012 about allowing the early release of inmates to continue while awaiting an IT fix.

The state lawyer at the center of an early release error involving Washington prison inmates has testified under oath for the first time. Two deaths are attributed to the mistake.

Washington state Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson sat before the Senate Law and Justice Committee Monday.

In December 2012 Larson wrote an email to the Department of Corrections about a sentencing calculation error that was resulting in the early release of inmates. In her email, Larson said it was OK to wait for a computer programming fix even if it meant more inmates would get out before their sentences were up.

“Yes, I regret that now,” Larson said.

She said in hindsight she wishes she’d discussed the issue further with her supervisor.

“But at the time I wasn’t cognizant of the extent of the problem,” she added.

Larson testified she thought the sentencing error only affected a small number of inmates and would be fixed within in a month or two. It turns out it was a much bigger problem affecting thousands of inmates and the fix wasn’t made until earlier this year.

Larson is in the process of resigning from the Attorney General’s office.

Also testifying before the committee was Matthew Mirante, Sr. In 2012, he alerted the Department of Corrections that it was about to prematurely release the inmate who had stabbed his son. Asked how long it took him to hand calculate the correct release date, Mirante answered “Probably about five minutes, not much more.”

Other testimony came from Wendy Stigall, a records administrator and Sue Schuler an IT specialist both with the Department of Corrections. They testified about efforts to get the sentencing error fixes and the multiple delays that ensued.

Senate Law and Justice chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said more hearings are planned in the coming days.

Meanwhile, a separate investigation into the early releases ordered by Governor Jay Inslee has been completed. Details of that investigation are expected to be released later this week.

It’s believed that nearly 3,000 inmates were let out early. Two of those inmates are accused of homicides that occurred during the period they should have still been locked up.

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."