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Government and Politics
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."

Republicans Target Former Secretary Of Corrections In Early Release Probe

Partisan tensions are building over the early release of nearly 3,000 Washington prison inmates that resulted in two deaths. Republicans held a third hearing Monday into the matter.

Their focus was on former Secretary of Corrections Bernie Warner and whether investigators hired by Governor Jay Inslee gave him a pass.

Republicans first called Kit Bail, a former Department of Corrections chief information officer. She testified that her criticisms of former Secretary Warner were not reflected in a report released last week by two former federal prosecutors hired by Inslee to investigate the early release mistake.

When asked why not, Bail offered her theory.

“It’s highly political, as we all know not only with this investigation, but with the governor’s investigation,” Bail said.

Bail said under Warner, there was an IT staff exodus from the agency.

She wasn’t the only one to criticize Warner. Denise Doty is a former Department of Corrections assistant secretary and the highest agency official believed to have known about the early release problem. She testified that it was hard to get Secretary Warner to make an executive decision.

“With Bernie there’d be a time where he could easily get distracted with his cell phone or just start working on his computer and you were done,” Doty said.

Warner left the Department of Corrections last year to work for a private prison company in Utah.

Republican state Senator Steve O’Ban said the investigation commissioned by Inslee contains “glaring omissions” about Warner’s role.

“There’s clearly a pattern it seems to me of trying to downplay the clear impact of Bernie Warner and his mismanagement,” O’Ban said.

Inslee attorney Nick Brown quickly fired back.

“This Senate committee has been focused on Bernie Warner since they started,” he said. “Not on the truth, not on fact-finding, but how do we discredit Secretary Warner and therefore how do we discredit the governor.”

Inslee has said responsibility for the early release problem not getting fixed “starts with” Warner.

Warner did not respond to a request for comment. He has cooperated with investigators but so far not agreed to testify in person.