- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

SEATTLE (AP) - Washington state Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke resigned on Saturday amid a controversy over the early release of prisoners, telling a Republican senator he hoped his departure would satisfy the “need for blood.”

The Department of Corrections and governor’s office disclosed in December that a software coding error 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.

“I notify you now of my resignation. I hope it helps meet your need for blood,” Pacholke wrote Saturday in an email to Sen. Mike Padden, a Republican from Spokane Valley who is chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee. “I hope it gives you fodder for the press and fulfills your political needs so you can let this agency, our agency, heal.”

Pacholke’s departure comes amid two ongoing investigations into what led to the software error and early releases.

Last month, the Senate Law and Justice Committee issued legislative subpoenas seeking emails, reports or data compilations by the Department of Corrections and the governor’s office related to the early releases. The committee also hired its own investigator.

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

“Pacholke submitted his resignation this morning, saying he hoped that his move would end the political blood thirst of Senate Republicans,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement Saturday. “I doubt it will accomplish that, and I’m sorry to see a dedicated public servant end his tenure this way.”

Inslee said Pacholke was working hard to get the agency through difficult times.

“Secretary Pacholke resigned for his own reasons. The accusation of a blood-thirsty investigation is clearly an attempt at a diversion to shift focus from the mistakes of DOC in allowing the early release of 3,200 violent felons,” Padden said in written statement Saturday.

Pacholke was appointed by the governor to lead the department in October, but the Senate had not yet confirmed his appointment.

On Friday, Senate Republicans showed they were willing to use their power to remove department heads when they voted to reject Inslee’s appointment of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson. In that rare move, majority Republicans and a Democrat who caucuses with them voted 25-21 to not confirm her appointment, ousting her from the job she has held since 2013. Some Democrats argued the act was a political ploy.

Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, who is vice chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, said he didn’t think Pacholke needed to resign at this point.

“We’re just barely getting into the investigation. It’s too bad that he chose this time to step aside,” O’Ban said.

In his resignation letter to Inslee, Pacholke apologized for “the tragic consequences” as a result of the sentencing calculation errors.

The agency was first alerted to the error - which started in 2002 - in December 2012, when a victim’s family learned of a prisoner’s imminent release. The family did its own calculations and found he was being credited with too much time.

However, even though the agency consulted with attorneys regarding the error the same month and scheduled a fix for the program, it was repeatedly delayed and ultimately, never done. Pacholke has said he didn’t learn of the error until the middle of December, and the governor says he didn’t learn of the issue until that same time, when corrections’ officials notified his staff.

One inmate, Jeremiah Smith, mistakenly released from prison three months early in May has been charged with killing a teenager when he should have been locked up. Another man, Robert Jackson, was charged with vehicular homicide in the death of his girlfriend in a car crash. More than two dozen other prisoners have been charged with various crimes when they should have been locked up.

A software fix to the coding error, publicly disclosed by Inslee on Dec. 22, was implemented last month.

“What current leadership discovered last December was a system failure. A tragic system failure. Understanding the system failure that occurred will take an earnest self-examination,” wrote Pacholke.

Pacholke worked with the agency for 33 years. The department oversees about 18,500 incarcerated offenders with 8,200 employees and a $580 million annual budget. Pacholke previously served as deputy secretary of the agency.

He has been credited with innovative programs to help offenders rehabilitate.

___

AP correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this story from Olympia.

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