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Bug Crime Software

Software Error Releases Up To 3,200 Inmates Early (seattletimes.com) 211

An anonymous reader writes: Governor Jay Inslee announced Tuesday that software used by the Washington Department of Corrections has been making mistakes in calculating sentences since 2002, resulting in thousands of inmates leaving prison early. Corrections officials learned of a problem in 2012. A patch to fix the faulty software will be implemented next month. Here's how the bug happened: When people are convicted of a crime, they're given a base sentence. On top of that, there can be extra periods of time — for example, using a firearm might add five years on top of the base sentence. While in prison, inmates can earn time off their sentence for good behavior or participating in work/education programs — but it can only apply to their base sentence. The software involved applied the inmates' good behavior credits to each section of their sentence. The Corrections Department is now trying to track down released inmates to make some of them finish their terms.
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Software Error Releases Up To 3,200 Inmates Early

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:29AM (#51172065)

    Sounds like the software was released early, too.

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:30AM (#51172079) Journal
    The Corrections Department is now trying to track down released inmates to make some of them finish their terms.

    Wow... How fucking maliciously vindictive and petty can Uncle Sam get?

    "Yeah, good job getting your life back together, congrats on landing that new job - Now get back in the goddamned cage."
    • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:34AM (#51172121)

      They should fight it out in court before going back in demand a trail before the can be put back in to prison.

      • by DarkTempes ( 822722 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:58AM (#51172375)

        With what money are they going to hire a lawyer to do that?

        • public defender / a rights lawsuit where the lawyers will come to them

          • a public defender that is. They're not accused of a crime. At any rate the public defenders are so underfunded they're barely useful. By the time a pro-bono charity gets involved a lot of them will have finished their sentence...
          • by dlt074 ( 548126 )

            spoken like someone who has never relied on a public defender.

          • by Adriax ( 746043 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @12:42PM (#51172773)

            The tough on crime crowd, also known as the board of directors of for-profit prisons, has done a fine job of kneecapping public defenders. To the point that in some areas they have as little as 15 minutes on average to dedicate to a particular case. As such people who can't afford a private lawyer are told to just plead guilty and take whatever leniency the judge feels like granting that day, even if there is clear cut evidence of their innocence. Add in mandatory minimums and you get a nice steady stream of easy convicts the prisons rake in profit from.

            • The tough on crime crowd, also known as the board of directors of for-profit prisons

              Actually the people who put the biggest lobbying pressure on being "tough on crime" are the prison guard unions, and indeed, there's a lot of scandal and coverup involved in it too.

              http://mic.com/articles/41531/... [mic.com]
              http://www.nationalreview.com/... [nationalreview.com]
              http://www.huffingtonpost.com/... [huffingtonpost.com]

              In fact, in a lot of states they're the biggest one pushing against legalization of Marijuana. Why? Because it gives them LOTS of job security, perhaps more so than any other crime. But, don't let the pro union types hear this, or e

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Good luck with that. The Marshal Service is just going to show up and put them in handcuffs; it's not going to be a discussion. You can't get justice once you're in the system... and apparently not once you're out, either.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Could they sue? Time and money invested in building a new life up wasted due to the incompetence of the state. Compensation for loss of job, property etc.

    • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:36AM (#51172133) Homepage
      What does Uncle Sam have to do with this? This is Washington state, not Washington, D.C.
      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        One of the purposes of the federal government is to protect the rights of the people from bad actions of the state. At least it has been sine the Civil War.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:39AM (#51172169)

      Please read the article before posting:

      "Many prisoners released early may not wind up being re-incarcerated, according to Brown. The law requires the state to give day-for-day credit in most cases to a prisoner who has been released early and hasn’t been found to break any laws since, he said."

      • by erikkemperman ( 252014 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:41AM (#51172189)

        Please read the article before posting:

        You must be new here

      • by pla ( 258480 )
        Please read the article before posting:

        Yes, please do:

        "Inslee said the state is working to locate offenders released early who need to complete their sentences. Five have been returned to prison, according to Brown."
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:40AM (#51172175)

      This sounds like par for the course. They have something called "Compassionate Release" -- it sounds quite magnanimous but is actually incredibly petty: throwing seriously ill inmates out onto the pavement to reduce medical expenses.

    • The Corrections Department is now trying to track down released inmates to make some of them finish their terms.

      Wow... How fucking maliciously vindictive and petty can Uncle Sam get?

      "Yeah, good job getting your life back together, congrats on landing that new job - Now get back in the goddamned cage."

      I don't know if you're American, but if you're not, this kind of thing happens all the time here.

    • This, exactly, and times 1E+6. They'll cause unnecessary damage to some people's lives.
    • Were the requirements for this software incorrect? If so, who signed off on them? And if they were correct, who signed off on the test script and results? Go track those people down and throw them in jail.
      • Go track those people down and throw them in jail.

        And use the same software to calculate their sentencing?

      • Yes, track them all down and throw them away for making a mistake... I guess we're all going away for that one.
    • by sjames ( 1099 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @12:43PM (#51172797) Homepage Journal

      Agreed, 100%. Certainly telling them their debt to society is paid and then going back for more is unusual. It has an element of cruelty to it as well.

      If anyone wonders why some people act as if society is their enemy, here's the answer, because it acts like an enemy.

    • Read the Article (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The article gives a little more insight than the headline.
      There will be a one for one standard - those who have remained crime-free for 10 days, for example, will be excused for 10 days of sentence.
      But, those who were released 600 days early have to go in and finish their time.

      • Yeah whatever. You probably made that up. Like someone on Slashdot would actually read the article. Please!
    • Technically speaking, this isn't 'Uncle Sam', which would be the federal government. This is the Washington state correctional system that's being petty. Generally speaking, shorter sentences than we assign here in the states are better for various reasons.

      So - Either we track down these released felons, who are doing what they're supposed to, in which case we don't need to spend the ~$50k/year to lock them up, or they're back to criminal behavior, in which case they'll show back up in prison from that.

    • They should ONLY force people to serve out their sentences if they reoffend. If they have returned and integrated into society, there should be no reason to track them down and force them to serve out their sentences - after all it was not their mistake that effectively commuted their sentences.
      • There's a simple and reasonably fair solution. Tack it on to their next sentence. If they're doing well in society, employed, supporting themselves and their families, and not committing new crimes, leave them alone. The point of prison is supposed to be to reform criminals and there wouldn't be any point in disrupting the lives of people who have been reformed. That couldn't possibly have a positive effect on society.

    • They get money from incarcerated prisoners...

    • The Corrections Department is now trying to track down released inmates to make some of them finish their terms.

      Wow... How fucking maliciously vindictive and petty can Uncle Sam get?

      "Yeah, good job getting your life back together, congrats on landing that new job - Now get back in the goddamned cage."

      I concur with you. I am willing to bet that most, if not all of the released (on error) inmates are not recidivists. They returned to home, job, and in many cases, back to spouse. The reason the government wants them back is for the contract--for profit prisons are great. Its time that the USA should empty their prisons of pot smokers, or bad debt prisoners.

  • The Corrections Department is now trying to track down released inmates to make some of them finish their terms.

    We can't let criminals get off on a technicality.

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:36AM (#51172135)
      Actually we can. There was a fairly recent example of a court sentencing a man but somehow failing to actually send him to prison. He lived clean for well past his sentence's duration and when the authorities realized their mistake a legal battle ensued and the man won. He did have to spend some time in jail pending the outcome of the second legal case, but that was short compared to the time he would have spent had the court affirmed that the state could hold him for his sentence.
      • by creimer ( 824291 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:52AM (#51172311) Homepage
        That's a legal technicality, not a technical technicality.
        • by TWX ( 665546 )

          That's a legal technicality, not a technical technicality.

          What's the difference? Humans still chose to process the inmates for release, fill-out paperwork, return their property to them, arrange for transportation, and open the gates. Even if the humans were advised by a computer, a human still created the computer and programmed the computer, and were in-charge of the computer, and those humans are representatives of the State. At any time in the process those representatives of the State could have chosen to audit the computer results, and from a sanity-persp

      • There was a fairly recent example of a court sentencing a man but somehow failing to actually send him to prison.

        This [thisamericanlife.org] is probably the case you're referring to.

  • Should just have used Date::Manip from the start.
  • "Up to?" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by snarfies ( 115214 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:37AM (#51172147) Homepage

    Is that "Up to" as in, we don't actually KNOW a number?

    I actually find that to be the more alarming issue.

  • by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:41AM (#51172193)
    I think releasing an inmate and then trying to put him back in prison due to an error in the system constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. On the other hand, I think illegal drugs and drunkenness are such a huge problem that we should execute all caught driving drunk or possessing any amount of illegal drugs to be executed within 48 hours of their arrest on the first offense. And I include even the very young in that as well. I don't care if it is an eleven year old smoking crack. He should be put to death at once.
    • by dex22 ( 239643 ) <plasticuser@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @12:24PM (#51172615) Homepage

      It occurred to me that if we replaced airbags with shotgun cartridges people might start driving carefully and stop running into other cars and things.

      • by bentcd ( 690786 )

        It occurred to me that if we replaced airbags with shotgun cartridges people might start driving carefully and stop running into other cars and things.

        No they wouldn't. This isn't very far from the state of affairs before seatbelts became mandatory equipment, and nobody cared much back then that people were dying in droves. Not even the drivers themselves. (Volvo cared though, and invented seatbelts.)

        • I remember reading that the windows and windshields used to be made of ordinary glass, which caused horrible and fatal mutilations due to being turned into flying glass shards.

      • You'd have to hit the steering wheel pretty hard with your head to detonate that embedded shotgun cartridge.

      • Just buy a Honda. The airbag shoots metal fragments at the driver. It's known to cause fatalities. Of course you can't make that decision for other people, but feel free to get one for yourself if you think it will help your driving.

  • by cshark ( 673578 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:42AM (#51172199)

    Can they do that after they've been released?

    Why not just leave these people alone? Why as a taxpayer am I being forced to re-incarcerate anyone?

    It's bad enough that we have this many people in jail to begin with. Who exactly does re-incarcerating people benefit? Most jails in America are overpopulated to begin with, and now... we want to put more people in?

    Software issue or not, this is stupid.

    • Why not just leave these people alone?

      Because they didn't spend the amount of time in jail that their sentence called for.

      Why as a taxpayer am I being forced to re-incarcerate anyone?

      The cost of collecting the people who were mistakenly released is probably very small in most cases compared to the cost of their actual incarceration. So what you're really asking is, "Why should taxpayers foot the bill for putting criminals in jail?" Are you suggesting that we bill their families, instead? Who else did you think was going to pay for maintaining a convicted criminal's time in prison?

      It's bad enough that we have this many people in jail to begin with.

      That is definitely tr

      • by armanox ( 826486 )

        Depends on the crime. I don't think that most of the people in prison/jail belong there. It only makes them a further liability to society. Instead of making people totally worthless, how about we either A- have better alternatives to a for-profit prison system, like public humiliation, or B - actually make something useful out of these people?

        • how about we either A- have better alternatives to a for-profit prison system

          So you'd rather have a prison run by volunteers? By people who don't make a living while dealing with criminals?

          public humiliation

          So, if someone wrecks your business, or steals from you, or rapes your daughter, or kills your friend ... public humiliation! There, everything's better now.

          Why do you think that people who don't have the integrity to hold off on committing crimes are going to care about your idea of humiliation? Or are you advocating for something really, really atrocious and cruel? Ever read that part of th

          • by armanox ( 826486 )

            Except most people in jail are none of the above. Either that, or you really don't know what crime statistics look like in American cities, or have family that is or has been in jail.

        • Tsk tsk. Feeding the troll rational responses is still feeding the troll.
      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

        It's bad enough that we have this many people in jail to begin with.

        That is definitely true. Fewer people should commit crimes.

        We have more than anywhere else in the world. At some point we have to admit we have a problem. It was a good idea when it was pitched in the '50s as a means of making every Black man a felon, so we could strip all them of the right to vote. But it turns out that experiment was a failure. How many centuries until we admit that error and correct it?

        As much as you don't want to admit it, putting people in prison *causes* crime.

        Making convicted criminals complete their prison sentences is stupid?

        No, violating the release terms of the citizens is wrong and evil. They were

        • As much as you don't want to admit it, putting people in prison *causes* crime.

          So let me get this straight. You go into a liquor store and threaten to kill someone if they don't give you their money. You get caught, and are put into prison for being a violent douche. Being put into prison is what, through time travel, causes you to have committed the crime in the first place.

          You would prefer the scenario where: You go into a liquor store and threaten to kill someone if they don't give you their money. You get caught. You are given a pat on the head, and the lack of consequence for

          • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

            You would prefer the scenario where: You go into a liquor store and threaten to kill someone if they don't give you their money. You get caught. You are given a pat on the head, and the lack of consequence for being a violent douche magically causes you to change your ways and never do such a thing again.

            That's what happens when young rich white kids do it. And they grow up to not be in prison. It's not about a single person, but when the system is so obviously rigged, it makes the system fail to work. Prison isn't a deterrent when someone expects to end up there no matter what they do. Sandra Bland was pulled over for a trivial traffic offense, and ended up dead in jail. That's the reality. That you don't like reality, and that reality causes crime, won't change reality.

            • Sandra Bland was pulled over for a trivial traffic offense

              Right. But then she didn't act anything like a person being cited for a traffic violation. And when she ended up being brought in she (as she'd tried multiple times before) killed herself. That is the reality. You're saying that, through some sort of time travel, her mental inability to act normally and her existing suicidal tendencies caused her detainment, which in turn rippled back through time and caused her to be arrested? Do you even listen to yourself?

              • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

                But then she didn't act anything like a person being cited for a traffic violation.

                Yeah, she acted like an uppity Nigger, and deserved to die.

                The cop asked her if she was nervous. She said yes. The cop asked why (hoping to hear something incriminating) , and she said she was nervous because she was pulled over. The cop then asked her "are you done yet" because her direct answer to his direct question took more than 3 words, and she responded that she was just answering his question. The cop recognized the uppity bitch was right, and so he arrested her.

                It was a by the book lynching f

    • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

      Why as a taxpayer am I being forced to re-incarcerate anyone?

      You're paying so the person can repay his debt to you. Or something.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      A corporation lost some profit due to an administrative error. That cannot go uncorrected.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Early estimates indicate the offenders were released from prison an average 55 days before their correct release dates, according to Inslee’s general counsel, Nicholas Brown.

    Seriously? We're going to track down people who've likely served years in prison just so they can serve (on average) another 55 days? This is incredibly idiotic. Here's why:


    1. It's expensive to put people back in prison.
      Anyone who has a job would likely lose their job when they have to serve another month in prison. Thus making t
  • Pretty sure there's a built-in Python module to manage inmates' sentences.

    • Nope, no Python module, the Feds don't trust the Snakes. Emacs does have a key-combo to try, convict and manage sentences though.

      • Being an emacs aficionado myself, I find this the funniest remark on slashdot this year. But hey - there's eight days to go, yet.

  • I've always found 90% of software bugs come from requirements gathering/domain analysis. Especially when you are trying convert the law into code.
    • A few years ago, I saw a talk by someone from the IRS. They said that they were trying to get Congress to use a reduced set of sentence constructions, as quite a bit of analyst's time is in trying to figure out what the hell the laws passed mean, and trying to translate it into logic they can put into their software.

    • The weird thing is, the Law already is code. I mean, not only does it call the list of rules a "code" but it shares many features and problems of software code.

      For instance, there is a lot of duplication of effort—descriptions of sections codified within the sections themselves; tables of contents distributed at multiple levels of the structure willy-nilly (not sure the software analog of this..); attempts to avoid duplication by referencing other laws or sections of other laws; and a weird runtime pa

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        You forgot that the results of a UAT for unrelated code will change the constants across all the code. It's called "case law" in law, no idea what it would be called in code.

        The single thing that would benefit law best is a sunset clause on laws. Explicit action needed to renew silly laws would help clean up some of the stupid ones. Though, it'd have to be written intelligently, or we'd get a "renew all laws" vote at the start of every session, and no review of the laws themselves.
  • Those who write software, even if it's a spreadsheet calculation, sometimes need to understand the distributive and commutative rules of arithmetic. Actual knowledge of the names of these terms doesn't excuse one for understanding the principles of arithmetic. No higher math needed.
    • Perhaps theoretical mathematicians see what I see as pretty simple concepts of arithmetic as higher math. OK, I can go with that but on the practical level maybe not so much. One of you stated the math involved here is high school math. I think I learned that the result of 3 times 4 is the same as 4 times 3 or the result of 3 + 4 is the same as 4 +3 in elementary school. One should obviously know that the result of 4x(3 +1) is also the same as 4x3 + 4x1 but not the same as 4x3 + 1 which may be the mistake m
    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Knowing the math is irrelevant if the person who gives you the equation writes it wrong.
      • Clearly everyone along the "chain of command" need to know math, including the legislature writing the law, the governor who signs and orders it implementation of the law, and the many likely members of the prison hierarchy who will interpret the rules that go to the ultimate coder. My guess is there is no equation in any of these communications and it's not likely that there is much, if any, reverse communication back up the chain.
  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @11:51AM (#51172305) Homepage

    The software involved applied the inmates' good behavior credits to each section of their sentence

    So we're going to have to refactor the code to include subroutines and functions that support the US criminal justice systems perogative of biblical retribution it seems. For those worried about the inmates released, you can sleep soundly tonight knowing they are barred from most forms of employment, voting, public assistance, loans, and education grants after being released under the auspices that they are now rehabilitated. homeless shelters will also refuse service in many cases to convicted felons. So thanks to this system the only thing an early release ensures is an early re-incarceration due to a life-by-default of petty theft and drug trade.

  • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @12:12PM (#51172513)

    Folks, most of these "early releases" were around 45 days early. Nothing to see. Move along.

    • Nothing to see -- move on if they they just treated the sentences as commuted and served. It would be vindictive and cruel punishment to track them down and lock them up for 45 days -- forcing them to be unemployed disrupting their families -- for a mistake not of their making.
  • for example, using a firearm might add five years on top of the base sentence

    Because threatening to shoot someone is soooo much worse than threatening to beat them with a bat or stab them if they don't comply.

  • Three years ago an accidentally released white gang member killed the head of Colorado Prisons dressed as a pizza delivery guy (he killed the pizza guy for his coat and car too). The killer had been accidentally released years early. A subsequent audit of prisoner sentences found a one third error rate. Both in undercalculating bad behavior extensions or over calculating good behavior reductions.
  • QC? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @12:41PM (#51172771)
    It's almost as if you can hire people to test your software to make sure MAJOR problems like this don't sneak through. This is not an obscure memory leak, which lead to a date error causing a segfault, this is a MAJOR requirement being mis-implemented, which I'm sure is just as much on the requirements level as it is on the coding level.
  • This is software working exactly as written. An error would be it adding 2 + 2 and getting 3.99999999999997.

    This is an error of either the coder, who didn't want to bother coding in the exceptions to the good behavior rules, or the project manager who didn't provide the good behavior exceptions to the coder, or perhaps even the state, for not highlighting the necessity of the exceptions to the software provider.

    The code is blameless here. #notallcode

  • ...and are now totally getting what they deserve.

  • by ArcadeNut ( 85398 ) on Wednesday December 23, 2015 @02:50PM (#51173839) Homepage

    Amazing.... They probably could have re-written the software from scratch in that amount of time....

  • The Corrections Department is now trying to track down released inmates to make some of them finish their terms.

    Replace "The Corrections Department" with the name of your favourite Telco and it still sounds plausable!

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