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Over 3,200 prisoners were released too early due to a software flaw

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December 24, 2015

The Department of Corrections at Washington State is facing an embarassing investigation after it released more than 3,200 prisoners too early on their sentence due to a simple software flaw.

"These were serious mistakes with very grave implications," said Governor Jay Inslee in a statement.

"When I learned of this, I ordered the Department of Corrections to fix this asap and fix it right this time," he added.

The problem stems from a 2002 ruling by the state's Supreme Court that allowed prisoners to claim good time credits from when they had been held in jail before being sentenced to prison.

These so-called credits are used to reduce the length of prisoners' stretches behind bars, but the code the Department of Corrections installed to calculate this kept making errors.

Incredibly, over the next thirteen years, about 3 percent of inmates in Washington's prisons were released too early. The median early release time was 49 days.

All releases related to good time credits have now been stopped until the calculations on time served have been checked manually.

"That this issue was allowed to continue for thirteen long years is deeply disappointing to me, totally unacceptable and, frankly, real maddening," Inslee insisted.

The programming error didn't come to light until December 2012, when the family of a victim informed the Department of Corrections that the criminal responsible had been let out of prison too early.

The cause of the blunder was found shortly afterwards, and the bug was scheduled to be fixed the following month, but it never was.

The bug fix was never completed despite it being reportedly marked ASAP by the IT department. It was only when the department hired a new CIO in November that the ongoing lack of a fix was spotted and the alarm raised to the highest level.

The related authorities are now trying to find prisoners who were let out early and will send them back to jail to finish off their time.

Meanwhile, the IT department says it will have the issue fixed by January 7, 2016 at the very latest.

Governor Inslee has appointed two retired federal prosecutors-- Robert Westinghouse and Carl Blackstone, to perform an independent investigation into the affair. It's doubtless that several heads will roll, and fast.

"I have a lot of questions about how and why this has happened, and I understand that members of the public will also have those same pointy questions," Inslee said.

"I expect the external investigation will bring the transparency and accountability we need to make sure this issue is resolved, in the most efficient manner possible," he added.

Source: The Department of Corrections at Washington State.

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