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March 5, 2007

Gregoire says no one in her office knew of prisoners' early release

Posted by David Postman at 11:14 AM

Gov. Christine Gregoire and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon said this morning that the county will take up to 180 state prisoners to ease overcrowding and prevent future early release of offenders. Snohomish County will reopen a minimum security facility known as The Ridge, which will house some offenders from its jail. That will free up jail space that the state will pay up to $4 million a year for.

That may take some of the immediate pressure off of the system that led to the controversial release of scores of felons on Feb. 23.

Gregoire last week stopped the policy of early release of prisoners. She told reporters today that she first learned of it only when Times reporter Jennifer Sullivan broke the news last week. Gregoire said that she also quizzed her senior staff and that no one knew the Department of Corrections routinely let prisoners out early because of over-crowding.

State corrections chief Harold Clarke, also at Gregoire's press conference this morning, said the policy has been in place for five years. That predates Gregoire's term as governor, but she was attorney general when the program apparently began.

Last week the P-I reported:

Yet in 2003, when Gregoire was Washington's attorney general, she was well aware of a new Corrections Department policy to quietly downgrade felons rated highly likely to reoffend — and requiring strict supervision — to a status requiring minimum oversight, if any.

Gregoire told reporters this morning that's untrue. "I don't know where they got that," she said.

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