Washington accidentally released 3,200 prisoners early due to a computer glitch

Math is hard. So hard, in fact, that a “computation issue” at Washington State Prisons released as many as 3,200 prisoners early. 

The problem has existed for 13 years. 

“These were serious errors with serious implications,” Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement released on Tuesday. 

Inslee’s office says a miscalculation that stems from a 2002 Supreme Court decision is the root of the miscalculation. From the press release:

The problem dates back to July 2002 when a state Supreme Court ruling required the DOC to apply “good time” credits earned in county jail to state prison sentences. The department changed its sentence computation coding to comply with the ruling; however the programming fix contained an inaccurate sequencing that over-credited good time for those offenders with sentencing enhancements. 

Whoops.

An analysis by the Washington Department of Corrections says that the “median number of days offenders were released from prison is 49 days before their correct release date.”

The DOC knew about the problem in 2012, but didn’t do anything to fix it, according to the government’s statement. It took a new Chief Information Office to become aware of the issue and report it to DOC leadership.

No other inmates are getting out of jail until a “hand calculation” is completed “to ensure the offender is being released on the correct date,” the governor’s office said in a statement.

 Some may have to return to jail as a result of this error. 

“In accordance with Supreme Court precedent,” the government’s press release says, “most of the offenders who were released early will be given with day for day credit for their time in the community. Depending on how much time they have left to serve, the offenders will go to work release or back to prison.”

Illustration by Max Fleishman

William Turton

William Turton

Once named one of Forbes’ 20 Under 20 and hired as a staff writer for the Daily Dot when he was still a senior in high school, William Turton is a rising tech reporter focusing on information security, hacking culture, and politics. Since leaving the Daily Dot in April 2016, his work has appeared on Gizmodo, the Outline, and Vice News Tonight on HBO.