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Monday, April 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Managers Report Fakery in Prisons

TACOMA, Wash. (CN) - Washington state prison officials faked results of an inmate violence reduction project to reap millions in taxpayer dollars, two whistleblowers claim in court.

To qualify for another $1.8 million, the Department of Corrections claimed its pilot project reduced violence by 75 percent, though studies showed it actually had "no significant effect," according to the complaint in Pierce County Court.

Research managers Teri Herold-Prayer and Michael Evans claim the Department of Corrections demoted them after they exposed the "deliberately skewed" statistics. They seek damages for violations of the state Whistleblower Act.

Herold-Prayer was assigned to work with Washington State University researchers on a violence and recidivism rate study known as the "Prison Pilot Project," the complaint states.

"In November 2012, WSU researchers issued an interim WSU Prison Pilot Evaluation Report. This interim report indicated that there was no marked difference in prison violence through the project. Despite the November 2012 interim evaluation report, the Prison Pilot Project continued," according to the complaint.

"In February 2013, a second interim report was presented by WSU researchers. This second interim report again indicated that the program had no significant effect on inmates in terms of recidivism or prison violence."

Despite these findings, the researchers say, the DOC issued a press release in March 2013 stating the project "had reduced violence by 75 percent."

"In April 2013, Governor [Jay] Inslee's Chief of Staff, Mary Alice Heuschel, visited the DOC," the complaint states. "The new Director of Offender Change, Amy Seidlitz, asked Ms. Herold-Prayer to prepare a short overview of what was being done in Ms. Herold-Prayer's research unit. Ms. Seidlitz made it clear that she wanted to inform the Chief of Staff that the Prison Pilot Project was successful despite the fact that this was contrary to the findings of the WSU researchers.

"If successful, the Prison Pilot Project was worth millions of dollars to the DOC."

Herold-Prayer claims the governor's report was falsified by manipulating the control group. She says she told prison officials about the discrepancy but was rebuffed.

"After learning that Ms. Seidlitz had misled the Chief of Staff by providing her with the skewed report, Ms. Herold-Prayer went to speak with the Director of Executive Strategy Analysis and Accountability, Adam Aaesby. Although he acknowledged that the report provided to the Chief of Staff by Ms. Seidlitz was suspicious, Mr. Aaesby made it clear that he was not going to tell the Department of Corrections Secretary Bernie Warner ('Secretary Warner') that the report was inaccurate. Mr. Aaesby feared retaliation from Ms. Seidlitz," the complaint states.

Herold-Prayer then went to her boss, senior research manager Evans, and told him about the fake results. Evans says he met with Warner and told him the project had no effect on recidivism or violence and that the statistics were manipulated.

"Rather than retract the report that had been presented to the Chief of Staff by Ms. Seidlitz, Secretary Warner presented the same skewed report to the Legislature during the 2013 legislative session. As a result of the misrepresentations made by Ms. Seidlitz in her report, the Legislature awarded the DOC $1.8 million to continue the Prison Pilot Project," according to the complaint.

Herold-Prayer and Evans say they were demoted, given pay cuts and were harassed by superiors in retaliation for reporting the real results of the pilot project. They have filed complaints with the Human Rights Commission and the State Auditor's Office and are appealing their demotions.

They also claim the DOC refuses to turn over public documents related to their claims.

They seek damages for violation of the Whistleblower Act, the Public Records Act and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

They are represented by Robin Phillips, with Lasher Holzapfel Sperry & Ebberson of Seattle.

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