Software Glitch Sends Freed Inmates Back To Prison

One concept in many judicial systems is the idea of “time off for good behavior.” While this is typically decided on an individual basis–with some crimes not allowing for even the possibility of this–other situations have mandated schedules by which an inmate can earn an earlier release. Sometimes it’s simply a decision by the parole board based on a prisoner’s behavior record, while other states have predetermined ways to secure a sooner release date, such as for completing your education while incarcerated, for meeting the requirement for lack of disciplinary infractions, for joining a drug and alcohol recovery program, and more.

As part of a 2002 initiative in Washington state to streamline the process of determining this reduction in sentences, the state’s Department of Corrections implemented a new piece of software to calculate which inmates were eligible for reduced sentences. Sadly, a flaw in the software miscalculated the eligibility; this flaw was actually discovered three years ago when the family of one inmate’s victim reported that he should not have been eligible for release, but nothing was done to stop the use of this software until a new IT director was hired.

“That this problem was allowed to continue for 13 years is deeply disappointing to me, totally unacceptable and, frankly, maddening,” said Washington’s governor Jay Inslee at a press conference.

During the 13 years that the faulty software was in use, more than 3,000 inmates were released who were ineligible for the reduced sentence. And while these individuals were without a doubt convicted criminals, the real crime is about to happen: the state’s DoC has decided these former prisoners, some of whom were released over ten years ago, must return to jail to finish out their sentences. Five inmates have already been picked up by the police and returned to prison. An investigation into the flaw and the lack of response to the initial error report is underway.