ARTICLE BY JIM BRUNNER SEATTLE TIMESWashington prisons chief Stephen Sinclair was forced out of his job by Gov. Inslee, records show By Jim Brunner Seattle Times political reporter Washington prisons chief Stephen Sinclair was forced out of his job by Gov. Inslee, records show By Jim Brunner Seattle Times political reporter When Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) Secretary Stephen Sinclair announced his retirement earlier this year, the decision was framed as a voluntary winding down of a distinguished career.
In his Jan. 26 email to DOC employees, saying he’d retire effective May 1, Sinclair called it “a difficult decision, but one that I believe is best for me and my family.” But Sinclair didn’t really have a choice. He was asked to step down — fired, essentially — by his boss, Gov. Jay Inslee, public records show. At the time, Inslee did not say he’d pushed Sinclair out. In a news release, the governor praised Sinclair for his three decades at the DOC, including as secretary since 2017. Asked at a news conference in April whether he’d asked Sinclair to resign, Inslee refused to answer, calling it “irrelevant at this point.” As is usually the case with top state agency officials, news of Sinclair’s departure was carefully choreographed, with a schedule worked out in consultation with the governor’s office in late January. Staff at the DOC and governor’s office — aware their emails are public records — were generally careful in the written communications to betray no explicit sign that Sinclair was being forced out. But Sinclair himself blew up the charade in responding to a draft of a “Tick Tock” schedule detailing precisely how his retirement would be revealed to agency employees, legislators and the public.
The Jan. 22 list, sent to Sinclair by Kelly Wicker, Inslee’s deputy chief of staff, included a seemingly performative task: “Steve notifies Governor.” Sinclair appeared puzzled by that, based on his response, given the governor’s office involvement. He commented on the draft: “Why do I need to notify the Gov he is the one who asked me to leave?” The notation was revealed in thousands of pages of emails and other documents released by the DOC after a Public Records Act request.
There was no explanation in those records as to why Inslee decided to make a change, and the governor’s office declined to shed any light. But Sinclair’s ouster took place amid continuing publicity over health care lapses and negligence at state prisons, some leading to deaths and expensive lawsuits.
A critical report by the Office of the Corrections Ombuds, which detailed deadly failures in cancer diagnosis and treatment, was delivered to Inslee shortly before Sinclair’s retirement announcement. Tara Lee, a spokesperson for Inslee, said in an email the governor’s office generally does not comment on personnel issues “out of respect for all parties,” but that “the documents you have speak for themselves.” “There were a number of reasons for this decision, but most importantly, the state needed to move in a different direction at the Department of Corrections. The governor has full confidence in Cheryl Strange as the new DOC secretary,” Lee said, referring to the state government veteran named to succeed Sinclair in late April. Lee added: “The governor’s office won’t have more to say on this.” All Cabinet-level state-agency leaders are appointed by the governor, subject to confirmation by the state Senate. The governor can remove them at will. As governor since 2013, Inslee has not been known for publicly firing his appointees. He has staunchly defended some agency heads, even when they have faced blowback and calls for their firing, such as Suzi LeVine, the embattled former head of the state Employment Security Department, who left in January for a job in the Biden administration. In an interview this week, Sinclair, 55, confirmed Inslee asked him to move on, but called the decision “mutually agreeable,” noting that he was eligible to receive retirement benefits after more than 30 years at the DOC. “I don’t know how much of this I want to get into, because for me, it’s kind of like water under the bridge,” he said. “I think it worked out pretty well that I was in a position to retire. To me, the why doesn’t matter that much.” Sinclair said he did not know why he was let go. Asked whether Inslee spoke with him directly about his decision, he said “not initially, no.” But he emphasized he didn’t want to clash with the governor, noting he still wants to seek work in the corrections field, possibly as a consultant or expert witness.
PRISON WIDOW RESPONSE: An expert witness in what? Overseeing inmate abuse and free charitable vacations to Norway to experience prison reform? The difference between the system in Norway V the USA is night and day. Washington State Penitentiary have a duty of care, right? All prison's do, but the 'duty of care' has and still does fail miserably to this day. We receive hundreds of emails at Prison Widow from frantic relatives whose loved ones are incarcerated to prove that 'the duty of care' is barely non-existent. So, allow me to explain just one fight we had with the Department of Corrections. Washington State Penitentiary provide eye tests for inmates as do all prisons. But; if the Optometrist detects a problem and prescribes glasses for the inmates; and please note on medical grounds by the way; chances are the inmates won't receive them. This issue occurred with my Brother and 5 or 6 other inmates housed in IMU at Washington State Penitentiary; and it has been brought to my attention that it is occurring at Kern Valley State Prison which has resulted in an inmate needing an operation for cataracts because the powers that be have denied the inmate his prescription glasses for 5 years plus. You see my point regarding the 3 words 'duty of care'? Yes; a shambles at its best.
To cut a long story short; Sterling and other inmates at Washington State Penitentiary did eventually receive their prescription glasses after both myself and my Sister-in-Law emailed some blunt and 'to the point' letters to the Washington Department of Corrections. Credit where credit is due; I'll give a certain officer a thumbs up for contacting me directly informing me that the 'issue' had been investigated and resolved; and that Sterling would receive his prescription glasses, and he indeed did so on the same day I received the said email. Sinclair states in the Seattle Times article, quote; 'he did not know why he was let go' from his position has secretary of the DOC. After 30 years of service, I don't know about you, but I would be demanding answers from my employer as to why I was 'let go' and shown the door. Sinclair states 'it is water under the bridge for me'. I don't buy that for one minute. When an employer 'lets you go' they 'let you go' because of 'a' or various reasons. With that said; Sinclair's yearly salary was just over $180,000 per year, with a nice little nest-egg pension, which is a good deal considering 'deadly' failures in cancer diagnosis's and inmates declining eyesight. Money for old rope for want of a word. Whether Sinclair was forced out or early retirement mutually agreed; Governor Inslee in my opinion made the right choice albeit a little late, but as the saying goes - better late than never. I wish Sinclair a happy retirement and good luck with his consultation agency. Who's to know; maybe the next freebie 'reform' vacation will be in Cebu Province to adopt the dancing inmate reform program.