Washington state prison head resigns after admitting thousands of prisoners have been mistakenly freed
Hands cling to jail bars (Shutterstock)

The head of Washington state's prison system resigned on Saturday six weeks after his agency said thousands of inmates may have been mistakenly freed early from state custody since 2002, including two men blamed for deaths when they should have been behind bars.

In a resignation letter to Governor Jay Inslee on Saturday, Dan Pacholke defended his three-month tenure as Department of Corrections Secretary and praised his staff's efforts to fix errors that have been blamed on recent deaths.

Pacholke, who had served as deputy secretary since 2014, began his career with the agency some thirty years ago as a corrections officer, Inslee's office said.

"It is my hope that with this resignation, the politicians who would use this tragic event for their political purposes will have satisfied their need for blood," Pacholke wrote in a letter provided by Inslee's office.

In December, state officials said as many as 3,200 inmates may have been mistakenly released early from Washington prisons since 2002 because of errors in calculating sentences.

So far, two deaths have been blamed on prisoners freed by mistake. One inmate was arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder over an attempted robbery 12 days after he was wrongly freed. Another inmate was charged with vehicular homicide in November.

The status of these cases was not immediately known.

State corrections authorities learned of the problem in 2012 but failed to fix it, Inslee said. He has retained an independent law firm to investigate the problem, which he has called "maddening."

Republicans agree. A Senate panel in January hired their own lawyer for a separate probe after saying its committee would seek subpoenas in the case.

Pacholke in his letter said that the agency's leadership "failed in its response to a sentencing calculation error" in 2012, and he apologized for "the tragic consequences of this error."

Inslee, a Democrat who appointed Pacholke to the post in October, said he doubted the man's resignation would mollify Republicans, that a transition plan for the agency was in the works, and that he was "sorry to see a dedicated public servant end his tenure this way."

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Nick Zieminski)