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Washington Prisoner Discovers Good Time Error; County Officials Admit and Correct Mistake

by David M. Reutter

Washington State’s Kitsap County Jail (KCJ) has corrected an error in how it calculates and awards “good time” to prisoners, after a former prisoner discovered the mistake and brought it to the attention of jail officials.

As prisoner Robert “Doug” Pierce was being shackled to be transported to state prison to serve two years for possession of methamphetamine, a guard handed him a stack of papers. Pierce knew that he would receive 213 days credit for time served at KCJ awaiting sentencing, and he also expected to receive “good time” credits.

When Pierce looked at the form awarding his good time, however, he said, “This isn’t right.” Under law, the state’s 37 county jails have discretion to award up to 33 percent of a prisoner’s pre-trial time in good time credits.

The Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) makes adjustments when too much time is awarded, but not where an insufficient amount of time is credited. “We didn’t question it,” said DOC records manager Wendy Stigall. “We don’t try and tell them how to run their jail.”

KCJ had divided Pierce’s 213 days of jail time by three, awarding him 71 days of good time for a total credit of 284 days. However, as he had served 213 days at the jail, a new equation came into play that required KCJ to divide the time in half for good time purposes; thus, the good time award should have been 106 days for a total credit of 319 days.

Upon discovering this error, Pierce began writing letters to his attorney, the court and the attorney general’s office. Finally, Clarke Tibbits, head of the Kitsap County Public Defender’s Office, told him “... There is no other way to describe the situation other than the [jail] is incorrectly calculating good time.”

After Tibbits met with KCJ administrators, they admitted the mistake and agreed to fix it. “Our intention is to be transparent,” said Ned Newlin, KCJ’s corrections chief. “We want to do it right.”

While it may seem trivial to some that Pierce spent an extra 35 days in prison due to the jail’s error in calculating good time, the mistake impacts more than just prisoners. At $100 per day to house a prisoner in DOC facilities, taxpayers are paying to lock up people longer than required as a result of miscalculated good time. There were 548 prisoners in the DOC who had come from Kitsap County as of November 2010.

KCJ does not know when the error began, but is checking its records going back three years to make adjustments and award appropriate credits to prisoners who are still incarcerated. No suits seeking damages for the over-detention have been filed as this issue of PLN goes to press.


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