The city’s next jail honcho could be a former prison boss from Washington State who resigned after 3,000 inmates were mistakenly released, the Daily News has learned.
Dan Pacholke was in the city on Wednesday and got a firsthand look at what could be his new digs. His personal Rikers Island tour guide was none other than Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, who announced his retirement on May 12.
Ponte will leave behind a scandal-scarred jail system beset by violence and corruption. The Department of Investigation accused him and other department employees of using his city-owned vehicle to drive to his home state of Maine, spending 90 days there last year.
Pacholke, 56, resigned from his post as secretary of the Washington State Department of Corrections in February 2016. He had only close to six months in the top position. He walked away after it was disclosed that the agency had accidentally released 3,000 prisoners over a 13-year period because of a computer snafu.
Two of those inmates were accused of murder after they were released, according to reports.
The computer glitch started in 2002 and was discovered in 2012, Washington officials said. But the computer system wasn’t revamped until 2016 because of bureaucratic bumbling.
On Thursday, Pacholke said he was never involved in creating or managing the system.
“Within a couple of months, we discovered the sentencing error that had gone on for some time,” he said. “I had never supervised the records or IT department in my 33-year career. It was not anything I should have been aware of or managed.”
Still, he took the fall.
“I was head of Corrections at the time,” he said. “I owned the problem.”
Now he wants a shot at Rikers. A senior research scholar at NYU, he’s already in love with New York.
“I’m really interested in the city,” he said. “It’s a very iconic city and progressive in many ways. It attracted me in that regard.”
Pacholke, who lives in Olympia, Wash., touted his experience as a former prison boss overseeing 18,000 inmates.
He began his career as an entry-level correction officer working at the McNeil Island Corrections Center. Over his career, he went on to hold almost every rank, including sergeant, lieutenant, captain, deputy superintendent, warden and deputy director.
But he left as the prisoner-release scandal erupted.
“I retired just in the hopes that it would help everyone move past it and rebuild trust,” he said.
He’s eager to turn around the city’s troubled jail system, citing Mayor de Blasio’s reform plans.
“He has a strategy that is as comprehensive as anything I’ve seen,” he said.
In New York, he’s likely to face stiff opposition from the union representing city correction officers, which wants a new chief with jail experience.
“Prison systems and jail systems are as different and unique as states and municipalities and they require a unique set of management skills and operational knowledge,” Correction Officers Benevolent Association President Elias Husamudeen said in a statement.
Pacholke acknowledged there are unique challenges to running a jail system but said he was up for the job.
“There are definitely unique differences and I understand that, but there’s also a lot of commonality in how you provide a safe environment,” he added. “There are probably more similarities than differences.”
He’s not the only candidate being interviewed for the job.
“As part of our thorough search for the next commissioner, we’re talking with many correctional experts from all over the country,” said mayoral spokeswoman Natalie Grybauskas.