OLYMPIA — Marking the first time in more than a year the agency has had a permanent leader, Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday named Stephen Sinclair secretary of the state Department of Corrections (DOC).
Sinclair’s appointment comes as DOC works to recover from its long-running mistaken early release of prisoners and the subsequent discovery of other sentencing problems.
Sinclair, who holds a master’s degree from the University of Washington, has spent 28 years working at DOC, according to a news release from Inslee’s office.>
Before his appointment, Sinclair was assistant secretary of the agency’s prisons division.
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“I think Steve’s talents are exactly what we need,” the governor said, citing Sinclair’s experience and desire to reduce crime by lowering recidivism.
Sinclair steps into the top job of an agency wrestling with a series of problems.
In late 2015 it was revealed that for more than a decade, a sentence-calculating problem had mistakenly freed thousands of prisoners early.
Two people were killed by offenders who should have still been in prison, officials have said.
Other offenders released early and trying to build lives back in their communities were rounded up to serve out their sentences.
Inslee commissioned an investigation into the issue, which found that then-DOC Secretary Dan Pacholke did not have prior knowledge of the long-running problem.
But Pacholke stepped down in February 2016 after decrying an investigation by Senate Republicans into the early-release scandal as political warfare.
Last year, the agency found that issues with court documents were leading to other incorrect sentences, and discovered that some sex offenders had been mistakenly released early off community supervision.
Lawmakers are still trying to find the votes to pass a bill intended to make sure offenders are serving their correct sentences.
Sinclair was among a handful of finalists for DOC secretary, Inslee said.>
To replace Pacholke, the governor last year appointed former corrections official Dick Morgan as acting secretary, and this year appointed Jody Becker to step in for Morgan.
Becker will remain deputy secretary for the agency, according to the news release.