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Software Glitch Frees Washington Probationers

A computer error at the Washington 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 on April 21, 2000, said DOC spokesman Jack Kopp.

DOC officials failed to notice the error until midJuly when prosecutors tried to file charges against a man for violating his probation only to discover that his courtordered supervision had been inexplicably terminated by the DOC months before.

The DOC persuaded five or six people to voluntarily return to DOC supervision, Kopp said. But another 44 "declined" to voluntarily return to supervision, and the terms of supervision for the remainder would have expired by the time the error was discovered anyway.

At least one of the 70 people violated a nocontact order during the lapse in supervision. Such a probation violation would normally result in prosecution, but this person could not be prosecuted because of the computer glitch, 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.

Assistant attorney general Dawn Cortez said that everyone will be ultimately returned to supervision and their restitution debts would be reinstated. 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 [the terms of their supervision]."

Source: Associated Press

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