Since 2002, the Washington state Department of Corrections has given more than 3,000 prisoners early release. The number of inmates freed could go as high as 3,200.
"I've ordered immediate action to fix 13-year-old sentencing errors discovered at state prisons," Gov. Jay Inslee tweeted on Tuesday.
The issue has to do with how good-behavior time was credited to an inmate's sentence.
The Associated Press quotes authorities as saying a July 2002 state Supreme Court ruling required the Corrections Department to apply good-behavior credits earned in county jail to state prison sentences. However, the programming fix ended up giving prisoners with sentencing enhancements too much so-called good time credit.
The AP explains that sentencing enhancements include additional time given for certain crimes, like those using firearms or those committed near schools. Under state law, prisoners who get extra time for sentencing enhancements cannot have that time reduced for good behavior.
Gov. Inslee, speaking at a news conference, described the issue as "maddening." Adding that to allow the problem to continue for 13 years is "deeply disappointing.
The Seattle Times reports: Inslee said his office learned of the problem, which a Department of Corrections (DOC) analysis said affected about 3 percent of all releases, on Dec. 16. Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke, who took over the department in October, said he learned of the early releases the previous day.
The Department of Corrections, according to The Associated Press, was first alerted to the error 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.
A timeline provided by the governor's office shows a coding fix was scheduled, repeatedly delayed and then was never implemented.
Corrections officials don't have a complete list of the prisoners affected, and can't say if any of the prisoners given early release committed crimes after they were freed.
Some of the prisoners will have to resume serving their sentences.
Inslee says until the problem is remedied, early release calculations will have to be done by hand.
The governor also ordered an independent investigation to examine why the problem took so long to be corrected. The state Legislature will also hold hearings.