Senate panel approves hiring attorney to assist in DOC early inmate release probe

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A Senate panel on Thursday approved the hiring of an outside investigator to sort through documents received as part of that chamber's inquiry into the erroneous early release of thousands of prisoners in Washington state.

The Facilities and Operations Committee voted 4-3 to hire attorney Mark Bartlett, a partner at the firm of Davis Wright Tremaine to assist with the Senate Law and Justice Committee's probe into to a software coding error that led to the early release of up to 3,200 prisoners since 2002 because of miscalculated sentences. At least two deaths have been tied to the early releases.

The F&O panel also voted, unanimously, to set up a website that would allow people to submit comments regarding problems at the agency. The website will allow the comments to remain anonymous unless submitters choose otherwise. A letter seeking input from employees of the Department of Corrections is also in the works, with the committee voting for a letter to be sent once agreement is reached on the wording.

Earlier this month, legislative subpoenas were issued by the Senate Law and Justice Committee seeking emails, reports or data compilations by the Department of Corrections and the governor's office related to the early releases.

"As a co-equal branch of government, we have an obligation to get to the bottom of this," Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican from Spokane Valley who is chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said before Thursday night's vote.

The separate probe will run concurrent to one already being conducted by two investigators hired by Gov. Jay Inslee.