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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."

Head Of Washington State Prisons Resigns

Washington Department of Corrections
Washington Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke announced his resignation Saturday after less than four months in the job.

Washington Secretary of Corrections Dan Pacholke has resigned his position after less than four months in the job. His unexpected announcement Saturday came just one day after the Republican-led Washington Senate voted not to confirm Secretary of Transportation Lynn Peterson resulting in her immediate departure from that agency.

Pacholke's abrupt announcement also comes in the midst of two ongoing investigations into the accidental early release of about 3,000 inmates over a 13-year period -- a mistake that has been attributed to a computer programming error.

In a statement Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said he was sorry to see Pacholke's 33 years with the Department of Corrections end in this manner and fired a verbal volley at Republicans.

"[Pacholke] hoped that his move would end the political blood thirst of Senate Republicans," said Inslee. "I doubt it will accomplish that.”

‘Shaming and blaming needs to end’

In his resignation letter Pacholke called the early release error a "tragic system failure." Two homicides are blamed on men who should have still been in prison when the deaths occurred. But Pacholke went on to accuse elected officials of using the situation for political gain.

"The shaming and blaming needs to end," wrote Pacholke, calling it a "grave injustice to the 8,200 staff" at the Department.

In an email to Senate Law and Justice Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, Pacholke was even more blunt.

"I notify you now of my resignation. I hope it helps meet your need for blood," Pacholke wrote. "I hope it gives you fodder for the press and fulfills your political needs so you can let this agency, our agency, heal."

Republican-led investigation

Padden's committee recently launched its own investigation into the early release error and, in a rare move, subpoenaed records from the Department of Corrections. The committee also retained a former federal prosecutor to lead the investigation. Inslee had previously hired two other former federal prosecutors to investigate the mistake and determine why the computer error wasn't fixed after it was discovered in 2012.

In response to Pacholke's criticism Padden said, "I think that is nothing but a diversion to try to deflect attention as to what we're doing. It's certainly not going to stop the investigation."

Padden said he was surprised by Pacholke's resignation. The two had just met in person on Friday morning in what Padden described as a "very cordial" meeting.

"I think it's perplexing. It may be related to what happened [Friday] on the Senate floor, but from my view it certainly wasn't necessary on his part from our perspective at this time."

Pacholke, 55, had not yet been confirmed by the state Senate and was not in charge of the agency in 2012 when the computer mistake was first discovered. His annual salary as prison head was $165,000.

‘More heads are going to roll’

Pacholke's resignation comes at a tumultuous time for Inslee and his cabinet. In October, longtime Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner resigned to go to work for a private prison company in Utah. That's when Pacholke was appointed.

Then in January Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Kevin Quigley announced he would be leaving later this month after three years on the job. That was followed by Friday's surprise vote not to confirm Transportation Secretary Peterson.

This shake-up leaves three of the state's largest and most high profile agencies without permanent leaders just as Inslee heads into a re-election year -- and in the midst of a highly partisan, 60-day session when lawmakers are under pressure to act to get out of contempt of court over school funding.

Of Inslee's remaining cabinet members, several have yet to be confirmed by the Washington Senate. Via Twitter on Friday Republican state Senator Michael Baumgartner suggested his caucus might not be done turning down gubernatorial appointments, writing, "Shape up, Do your job ... Or more heads are going to roll."

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."