Spokane, WA - 70 accidentally released from probation

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SPOKANE -- A computer error at the state Department of Corrections prematurely released about 70 people from criminal supervision or restitution payments.

People convicted of crimes such as robbery, drug possession and assault were suddenly freed from supervision in April, said Jack Kopp, Corrections administrator for Spokane.

The department has persuaded five or six people to voluntarily return to Corrections Department supervision, Kopp said.

But 44 have declined to voluntarily return. Assistant Attorney General Dawn Cortez will try next week to persuade a Spokane County judge to reinstate probation conditions for them.

About 20 people had the terms of their supervision expire between the time they were dismissed on April 21 and Corrections spotted the mistake in mid-July.

"Regrettably the errors occurred and the department is doing everything it can to correct the errors and get these people back under supervision," Kopp said Thursday.

Kopp learned of the gaffe when several people who were supposed to be under supervision violated their probation. When prosecutors went to file criminal actions, the dismissal orders were found.

Most of the 70 people were convicted of misdemeanors or gross misdemeanors, although an undisclosed number were felons. All were convicted locally and had some condition ordered, such as restitution or bans on use of drugs and alcohol, at their sentencing.

The error also ended no-contact orders intended to keep criminals away from their victims.

At least one of the 70 people violated a no-contact order during the lapse in supervision. Such a probation violation would normally result in prosecution, but the offender could not be prosecuted because of the error, Kopp said.

The error also relieved many from paying restitution, at least temporarily. One woman owed more than $23,000 from a welfare fraud conviction.

Cortez said everyone will be ultimately returned to supervision and restitution payments.

But public defender Don Westerman said state law is unclear on that.

"It is really unusual," Westerman said. "The state is not in very good shape because they certainly made the mistake. I honestly don't know if the court has the authority to reinstate."

Kopp said the error occurred when staff members asked Corrections computers for a report listing people whose only supervision condition was restitution. The intent was to cut off Corrections supervision and turn over collection of the debts to a Spokane court clerk.

But the list, which originally included about 750 names, included those under active supervision. Kopp said he was unsure why that error was made.

"Obviously in the future we will be doing quality assurance to make sure the (computer reports) are accurate and correct," Kopp said.

-- Black Adder (dark@places.com), December 10, 2000



-- Black Adder (dark@places.com), December 10, 2000.

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