The state Department of Corrections knew for over three years that it was mistakenly releasing thousands of inmates early, in violation of the law, but didn’t fix the problem. Last week, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-Ritzville) said of an upcoming Senate hearing on the brazen indifference by Corrections officials, “They need to ask a lot of questions that we get real answers to, and not the spin.”
Perhaps spin would have been preferable to the near substance-free answers Gov. Jay Inslee’s Corrections chief, Dan Pacholke, gave to the Senate Law and Justice Committee Monday afternoon. On many difficult questions, including how agency officials were notified of the problem and why it took so long to fix the error, Pacholke told senators they’d have to wait for the results of an official investigation.
The Seattle Times noted a typical exchange from yesterday’s hearing:
After DOC’s new chief information officer became aware of the problem in early November, why did it take more than a month for that information to reach Pacholke and the agency’s senior management?
“I have not asked him that question, nor do I have the answer to it,” said Pacholke, who became secretary in October.
Sen. Steve O’Ban (R-Lakewood) asked Pacholke whether the multiple, compounded errors show that Corrections is a dysfunctional agency:
“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 may not want to use a “wide brush” in spreading blame, but Gov. Inslee seems to recognize he’s politically vulnerable to the scandal. He insisted to reporters last week, “I blew the whistle on this virtually immediately upon finding this situation that existed. We did not lose any time blowing the whistle on this, and we have lost no time getting to the bottom of this and fixing this problem.” He also promised “absolute accountability” during his State of the State address today.
Unhappy legislators are hearing from families that were hurt by the early releases, and they’re also trying to get a sense of how much the state will pay out in lawsuits over Corrections’ willful incompetence. “You can’t whitewash this. We have to make darn sure nothing like this happens again,” Sen. Kirk Pearson (R-Monroe) said yesterday. “This is one of the bigger breaches of public safety in our state.”