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Crime, Law and Justice
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."

Corrections Secretary: Washington Sentencing So Complex, More Errors Certain

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TVW
Washington state interim Secretary of Corrections Dick Morgan says the state's criminal code is ''antiquated.''

A sentencing calculation error that led to the early release of nearly 3,000 Washington prison inmates over more than a decade came to light one year ago this month. And Washington’s interim Secretary of Corrections has warned a similar mistake could happen again.

Secretary Dick Morgan called Washington’s criminal code “antiquated” and the “headwaters” of the potential problem. But he said as you move downstream there’s a significant trouble spot lurking. It’s when Washington courts sentence someone to prison and issue what’s called a Judgment and Sentence document.

“[Last year] we had over 800 judgment and sentences that had errors or were incomplete,” Morgan said.

Morgan said his agency has requested legislation in 2017 to standardize the judgment and sentence forms. But he warned the complexity of sentencing in Washington virtually guarantees another error like the early release of inmates.

“I don’t know what the next error is going to be,” Morgan said. “But I’m pretty sure there’s going to be one because it is so complex, it’s impossible to tease this out until some staff member or some citizen says ‘hey this isn’t right.’”

He expects to leave his interim post early next year once Gov. Jay Inslee appoints a permanent secretary of corrections.

Morgan will appear on this week’s episode of TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.