News that an unknown number of sex offenders were allowed to leave state supervision early — before state officials got around to fixing a form that has led to miscalculated sentences — is alarming.
Seattle Times reporter Joe O'Sullivan traced the problem to 2008 when the courts started using the new sentencing form.
Former Assistant Attorney General Ronda Larson brought the problem to light in 2010 in an email to the Administrative Office of the Courts and it was on the agenda at a meeting of the courts committee that drafts and approves court forms. And then the committee members and staff dropped the topic.
Disturbingly, officials in the state’s court system and the Department of Corrections now are blaming each other. No one — not the courts nor the Corrections Department — did anything about the problem until six years after the problem was first discovered.
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If this is a joint failure of the executive and judicial branches, Gov. Jay Inslee and Chief Justice Barbara Madsen should appoint a joint task force to probe how the problem was allowed to fester since 2008 and whether anybody was harmed.
Failing that, the Legislature should investigate – as the state Senate did after the Department of Corrections released as many as 2,800 inmates from prison early. Two deaths were linked to inmates who were released early. That problem was related to a change in the sentencing formula.
The sex offenders were released from community supervision apparently because the form improperly calculated the amount of community supervision the offenders were supposed to receive.
The Corrections Department has found the incorrect form shortened the sentences of at least 73 sex offenders currently under state supervision and lengthened the time in community supervision and treatment for 32 others.
But the public needs to know the full impact of this mistake, including whether anyone released early from supervision and treatment committed other sex crimes and whether the offenders themselves suffered because their treatment stopped early.
These instances of state failure to fully protect the public were followed by another revelation last week about more lax security at Western State Hospital, one of the state’s psychiatric hospitals.
A security report after two recent escapes of violent patients found 25,000 master keys were missing, thousands of tools used to open patient windows had been misplaced and that security problems were putting patients and the public at risk.
This pattern of state-government scandals raises serious questions about how well our state officials are protecting the public.